Even the right Coalition internet safety policy is wrong

Even the right Coalition internet safety policy is wrong

Summary: The Coalition may have published an in-device internet filter policy 'by mistake', but it's still portraying the internet as a danger to children. Watch it. Watch it closely.

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The Coalition demonstrated some rather special advanced internet engineering last night, combining an internet content filter with a time machine and a Ferris wheel. That takes talent. And two contradictory child protection policies.

Everyone, lie down on the floor and keep calm!
Everyone, lie down on the floor and keep calm! The Children's e-Safety Commissioner is here to protect us.

Politicians of a certain species have been horrified by the internet's ability to deliver information of every possible kind, should one choose to ask for it, ever since the thing was invented. But here in Australia, efforts to force the unruly tubes to behave themselves by technical means really kicked off in 2007, when a couple of weeks into the election campaign, Labor's Plan for Cyber-Safety (PDF) was suddenly added to the policy mix, with its talk of mandatory content filtering at the internet service provider (ISP).

Ah, those were the days! Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy barraged with questions at every public appearance. Shouting matches with journalists. Petitions! Hashtags! Twibbons!

So it was with a sense of nostalgia that I greeted the initial version of The Coalition's Policy to Enhance Online Safety for Children (PDF). As ZDNet has reported, it proposed that a content filter be installed by default in every home network router and every smartphone, unless the owner proved that they were 18 years or older and confirmed that they wanted to opt in to adult content.

It was as if the Coalition time machine had taken Labor's policy, crossed out "computer", something a child might use unsupervised in their bedroom, written in "mobile device", something a child might use unsupervised literally anywhere, and moved the filter from the ISP to the customer's equipment.

Predictably, the policy framed the internet as a chamber of horrors.

Children face many risks online. They risk being a victim of child pornography, being groomed by a paedophile, becoming exposed to violent, pornographic, or other age-inappropriate content, or being a victim of malicious cyberbullying.

The community is understandably concerned about the content and experiences children are increasingly exposed to online.

Predictably, instead of allaying those concerns, the Coalition validated them by proposing a new Children's e-Safety Commissioner to "take the lead across government in developing and implementing policies to improve the safety of children online".

Children face all these risks offline, too, of course, plus many others. Physical injuries from accidents, sporting injuries, or even, yes, non-cyber bullying. Contagious diseases. Asteroid strikes. Actual physical or sexual abuse — and we know that's more likely within the family than anywhere else.

But we don't have a Children's Safety Commissioner offline, though the risks be greater.

Of course, that's not how ignorance-fuelled moral panic works. No, the internet is dangerous because it's "new", at least on political time scales. Every child is at risk. We must have a Children's e-Safety Commissioner to hover over them, like a cross between a cyber-fairy godmother and everybody's friend Tom from Myspace.

Nor, in the offline world, do we have government-mandated content inspectors in our meeting halls, churches, public parks, school playgrounds, analog telephones, suitcases, courier vans, letter boxes, conversations in the back seats of school buses, or anywhere else.

But the internet is such a vastly bigger threat to children by having none of the physical threats — yes, I know, shut up, this is politician logic, don't question me — that we must have government filters in our mobile devices to block "harmful material". Or "age-inappropriate content". Or "inappropriate material".

There's that time machine at work again. Just like Labor's 2007 policy, the Coalition jumbles the descriptions, conflating relatively benign age-inappropriate material (such as MA15+ material being seen by a 14-year-old) with child abuse material.

And, of course, once government-mandated software is installed in everyone's smartphone, no politician would ever suggest adding more functionality. Especially not any monitoring of any kind. Not even just for compliance purposes. Uhuh, not a bit. Ever.

Promise.

Fortunately, within hours, the Coalition had powered down its time machine and powered up the Ferris wheel, wheeling out that policy — it was a "mistake" that the wrong policy was uploaded, and obviously, when in government, nothing so silly could ever possibly happen because internet skills — and wheeling in a new one.

Gone was the filter-by-default opt-out policy; in came the policy the Coalition has been discussing for months.

We will work with mobile phone companies (such as Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, and their resellers) and internet service providers (which provide fixed-line broadband services to the home) to make available software which parents can choose to install on their own devices to protect their children from inappropriate material.

It essence, it's an extension of the Internet Industry Association (IIA) Family Friendly ISP scheme into the mobile realm — something that's been working just fine since 2002.

But wait. That's the only thing that's changed between the two versions of the policy.

All the rest of the scary-internet framing is still there.

The Coalition may not be waving the paedophile-on-a-stick to scare us into accepting bugs in our telephones, but it's still waving it to scare us into ... well, that's currently unclear. Watch these guy closely.

Topics: Privacy, Government AU

About

Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust.

He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit trap, clear a jam in an IBM model 026 card punch and mix a mean whiskey sour.

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3 comments
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  • The real e-Safety Commissioner

    I think this is the real e-Safety Commissioner: http://projectu.tv/assets/articles/joe-hockey-nickelback-tweets/joehockey.jpg

    In all seriousness, it's lucky we have Aussies like you who pay attention to these things.
    elector2013
  • The real e-Safety Commissioner

    I think this is the real e-Safety Commissioner: http://projectu.tv/assets/articles/joe-hockey-nickelback-tweets/joehockey.jpg

    In all seriousness, it's lucky we have Aussies like you who pay attention to these things.
    elector2013
  • and as if by some divine intervention, right on cue cometh Lyle and Jim...

    ...the two horsemen of the ACL-alypse, self appointed, one trained to kill by the SAS, riding facing backwards in the saddle and speaking with all the clarity of their horses rear ends.

    Lets get with the good governors of the UK they shriek, like the coalition were about to do before they suddenly realised that the ex Optus twit had been left alone in the playroom after all the big kids had left and was plotting to save the children from the bad things...

    The ACL, bigoted, rascist, unaudited, self appointed, despised by all except the lazy mainstream press, the odious Murdoch swill, and politicians of all sides are ready to gird up their loins and save us!

    But hark! The news cometh that in the past fourteen months, the UK politicians, clerks and Lords alike, have attempted, from their government computers, censored though they may be, to access porn sites a few times... like, well, about 300,000 times actually.

    What a festering pile of bile all through the halls of power everywhere, and given the nutcases in the next senate, (and yes, the Family First have a new male member, as in of the senate, not as in a pen#s with ears...oh well, maybe...) to stink up the joint all over again...

    These moral cretins have been quiet lately, but lets see them come crawling out of the mud like venomous two headed reptiles all over again, and lets squash then fast, because poison can spread fast too, just look at the porn seeking UK pollies...
    btone-c5d11