marcus westbury

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Internet Filtering: A letter to my local MP

March 25th, 2010 by marcus

I was inspired by watching Senator Conroy last night!

Right now, i’m convinced the best way to stop the internet filtering scheme is to try and educate the rest of ALP caucus (i.e. everyone who isn’t Senator Conroy) about what a terrible idea this scheme is. Ultimately the scheme has no chance of getting up unless a majority of the ALP are in favour it and frankly i think few of them have bothered to so much as think about it.

Obviously if the issue is still there closer to the election, then campaigning and voting for parties that unambiguously oppose the filtering scheme (such as The Greens, the “it’s just a flesh wound” on their deathbed Democrats and i’m sure many independents) may be the way to go but right now i think we should all take up the cause with our local members and the Senators from our states as their support is crucial in getting this scheme up.

In that spirit, I’ve published the letter i wrote below. The addessses and contacts for your own local members they can be found here and for Senators they can be found here. You can probably dig up their email with a bit of a search.

Dear xxxxxxxxxxxx,

I am writing to express my concern at the Government’s proposed mandatory Internet filtering scheme. I’ve been in two minds about whether to do this for a while but i was tipped over the edge by Senator Conroy’s stumbling performance on the 7pm project last night. I am not sure what your own view on the scheme is but I am writing to you in the hope that caucus may yet step in and block the proposal and/or amend it to make it optional.

My concerns about the proposed filter are technical, practical and philosophical.

Technically, there is little evidence that the filter will do anything other than make a marginal difference against the sheer volume of unacceptable material on the Internet. As the Internet is dynamic and always changing, any filter that relies on a fixed list to block will always catch a very small proportion of problematic material. The filter will also be very easy to bypass for those that are seeking to – through he use of a VPN (a common tool used by businesses) and those bypassing the filter will also be invisible to Australian law enforcement. As the filter only filters the web it has no effect on chat rooms, peer to peer technologies, newsgroups, email, bit torrent or anything other than web pages it will make no impact on any of the closed networks where much objectionable material is traded. Put simply, the filter will not stop people inadvertently accessing all problematic material and it will not stop people seeking to access the material blocked by the filter should they seek to access it.

Practically, the filter has a number of other problems. The first is the creation and upkeep of the list. As Senator Conroy himself points if the list is public it becomes a guide for finding objectionable material. If it is not public the the secrecy and lack of checks and balances risks abuse or simple incompetence. What is and isn’t on the list to be a constant source of contention and ridicule once the scheme is made law. The second problem is that the filter will create – unless carefully managed – an unreasonable expectation in the public mind that the Internet is “safe” for children and teenagers to use unsupervised. Stories about the failure of the filter to protect will become a tabloid staple over coming years. The third problem is that there is a great deal of doubt about where the filter will actually stop. While Senator Conroy points to extreme and unambiguous examples such as child pornography, the reality is that line is much more ambiguous. The filter risks catching a significant amount of material that would be far more ambiguous, political, or fiercely contested. Finally any technology that is reliant on a secret list is open to expansion by future governments. Once the technology is in place it will be incredibly tempting for future governments of all political persuasions to expand its application.

Philosophically, it concerns me that Australia is the only western democracy seriously considering such a scheme. I am concerned that there will be both economic and social consequences if Australia is lumped in with nations such as China, North Korea and Iran as nations that are filtering the Internet at a national level rather than simply regulating acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. As the filter itself is likely to be technically only mildly effective and easy to bypass, I am concerned that the filter will be a catalyst for increasingly draconian rules to prop up it’s effectiveness. As i recently discovered in China, the filter there is not in itself difficult to bypass – it is only a larger set of bans on technical discussions, tight regulations of corporate networks, and heavy handed enforcement that makes it even mildly effective. It would greatly concern me if we went down that path here.

I understand that there is legitimate community concern about inappropriate material on the Internet. However the proposed filtering scheme is not a serious attempt to tackle these problems, it is a very expensive and problematic illusion. I am strongly of the view that given the costs and complexities of the filter and its likely ineffectiveness that the energy would be far better invested in education, law enforcement and in providing practical tools to assist parents and the public in navigating the Internet safely.

I urge you to take this issue up with your colleagues and for the party to debate the consequences and implications of this policy fully before embarking down this path.

Yours Sincerely,

Marcus.

Feel free to write your own.

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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 phill Mar 25, 2010 at 9:50 am

    / signed.

    I honestly can’t believe it’s made it this far.

    …wait, you actually watched an episode of the 7pm Project? UGH UGH NYYYRRRGGGHHH

  • 2 amanda Mar 25, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    letter sent to Lindsay T.

  • 3 marcus Mar 25, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Nice work Amanda. Phil: i can’t believe it either — (both the 7pm project and this stupid proposal)

  • 4 John Walker Mar 25, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Will send a letter.
    One thing you haven’t mentioned is : this scheme will be an expensive ,pointless waste of… public money . Money that would be much better spent in the ‘electorates’ on health and education and so on.

  • 5 datakid Mar 25, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Marcus: http://yourvoiceinhouse.org.au/ is the best way to find “your reps” :)

  • 6 datakid Mar 25, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Third sentence, fourth para:

    As Senator Conroy himself points if the list is public it becomes a guide for finding objectionable material.

    should read

    As Senator Conroy himself points *out* if the list is public it becomes a guide for finding objectionable material.

  • 7 dave Apr 1, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    have sent to my MP. first time for everything.

  • 8 dave Apr 1, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    just seen a ‘nine network’ web article on this subject. 95% of it is a rambling nonsense about people being bastards to others on social networking sites. they go on and on about trolls and make no attempt to address any real issues. As this type of nastiness has been in the ‘news’ in the uk and the usa lately they use that coverage to try and justify this ridiculous attempt at strangling the internet. Conroy talks of ‘anarchy’! if people can read/see what they choose. maybe he should change his name to Alice Orwell as he seems to live in some 1984 wonderland.

    not everyone wants to tell lies for a living but that does not mean that we should take down the major political partys’ websites.
    Or all the real estate agents sites.
    we don’t all want to gamble other peoples money for large amounts of cash even when we lose that money, but we won’t take down all the stocks/share trading sites.
    we don’t all want to steal a little bit from every single person in the country and hope that no one notices but does that mean we should stop the big four banks from having a web presence? No Steve, we can decide for ourselves.

    i can see some argument for extreme sex violence but ONLY and ONLY if it can be reasonably suspected/proved that the people on the site are NOT consenting adults. some people like to have ‘extreme’ sex Steve, just because you and your ilk may not (or at least they don’t tell you about it), plenty do. What is extreme anyway steve? if someones bum looks a bit more stretched than you would feel comforatable with, are they engaged in ‘extreme’ sex stevie boy? grow up.

    the cash this will cost would be far better spent stopping people traffickers. the evil bastards who do this and use/sell women and kids for sex will not stop for one milli second just because a maximum potential of 21 million people (oooh big deal) have slightly slower access to their sites.

  • 9 Volker Apr 5, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    Hi Marcus, I think your letter is a brilliant idea. However, I have the doubtful honour to live in Menzies, which is actually run by Kevin Andrews. Mr. Andrews has in fact demonstrated that he is a hazard for a democracy, making the Haneef case (June 2007) into a complete disaster. Regarding him as a right wing hardliner, I doubt my letter would have any impact.

    Please also let me add, that this is a great initiative. Obviously senator Conroy has no idea what he is talking about. Maybe he should take 30 minutes of his time and watch two or three easily understandable videos on youtube that illustrate what he actually aims to control. China has failed and so will Australia.

  • 10 Volker Apr 5, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    @ 8 Dave: Alice Orwell – HAHAHAHA!!! That’s a good one.

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