No sex please, we're Labor

No sex please, we're Labor

Summary: The council rubbish truck didn't pick up my bin last week. Instead, the garbage contractor left a big yellow sticker highlighting exactly why my old egg shells, rancid fruit, microwave pizza boxes, an ancient and smelly pair of sneakers, and the odd brick had been left to rot on my property.

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The council rubbish truck didn't pick up my bin last week. Instead, the garbage contractor left a big yellow sticker highlighting exactly why my old egg shells, rancid fruit, microwave pizza boxes, an ancient and smelly pair of sneakers, and the odd brick had been left to rot on my property.

The instruction to remove inappropriate contents didn't specify what tipped him off. I was thinking the smell from the runners was the giveaway but, on reflection, it seemed the weight of the bricks made them the more likely culprit.

Am I alone in thinking everyone's day would have moved along just that little bit faster if, instead of climbing out of his truck to pick through my rubbish, the contractor had just pushed the button that made the robotic arm empty my bin, sneakers and all, into the truck? Did his dumpster-diving really avert an environmental disaster of epic proportions? And did he really think I wouldn't just make the next week's load lighter and less likely to attract his attention?

Speaking of rubbish, I note that our newly appointed minister for telecommunications etc., Stephen Conroy, has decided to begin his first year in the position by doing a bit of dumpster-diving himself. Plans to mandate ISP-level content filtering have revived a debate that I thought had long ago been relegated to the dustbin of history, if only because the Coalition government had accepted that it was an utter waste of time and energy.

Just trawling through ZDNet Australia archives, I note dozens of articles on the topic. Recall the protests when ISP filtering was mooted in 2005, or former minister Helen Coonan's conviction in 2006 that ISP filtering was unworkable. Or the even more ridiculous hysteria in 2001 about making ISPs responsible for customers' gambling habits.

After years of discussion, the best the previous government could do was the NetAlert content filtering program, which equips parents with a way to keep many children away from the Net nasties. Giving away millions of dollars' worth of filtering software isn't going to stop porn coming into Australia, but it's a step in the right direction. Clearly, however, it's not enough for Conroy, who is setting the tone of his tenure in this position and has, with this effort, shown that he too is not above wasting years of pointless debate trying to pursue some elusive and irrelevant moral high ground.

He makes the argument that filtering is a way to stop child pornography, and that's a goal nobody is going to argue against. But ISP-level filtering is really an extreme step that will do nothing to stop that particular scourge -- apart from stopping the few sickos too poorly-informed to use proxy servers.

What ISP-level filtering will do is to consume resources and time compromising the quality of the Internet feeds available to all Australians. It will impose extra costs on providers, slow down Internet services, block perfectly innocent content, and -- perhaps worst of all -- fuel the sneaking suspicion among many that the government is getting just a bit too involved in controlling what we can and can't see.

Even if the filters are only used for the noblest of causes, the fact that they're there at all will taint public perception of the government's control over the Internet.

I'm not here to ramble on about why ISP-level filtering is a supremely bad idea; this point has already been well discussed and reinforced across the media. What I will do, however, is note with disappointment that there seems to be a swelling undercurrent of filtering that does threaten to change the way we all use the Internet.

Consider the recent suggestions that AT&T may begin filtering to stop pirated content from traversing its network. For proponents of free speech, this is a Very Bad Thing. It seems -- based on the recently announced investigation into BitTorrent blocker Comcast -- to also violate US Federal Communications Commission policy that apparently prohibits comms providers from interfering in the transmission of data.

Comcast reckons it's just shaping bandwidth to ensure that a few heavy BitTorrent users don't spoil the experience for everybody else -- but tests show that even benign content like a 4MB version of the King James Bible is getting filtered.

There is heavy legal precedent in the US, where freedom of speech provisions have been extended online many times, to support bans on this kind of filtering. And while Australians may like to believe they enjoy similar protections, the government is wholly within its right (constitutional lawyers feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) to mandate it.

The question, however, is why Conroy wants to taint his time as minister by brewing a tempest in a teapot over an issue that has already been studied to death. Does he think that a Labor government can rewrite the laws of physics?

More importantly, he should realise that while abhorrent, child pornography Web sites are only the tip of the iceberg -- and that filtering will do absolutely nothing about a far more common threat to Australian children: sexual predators operating through perfectly legitimate Web sites, e-mail communications, peer-to-peer and instant messaging networks, and the like. Compared to these, child pornography sites are just low-hanging fruit.

If Conroy can focus his effort more productively and do something about this last bit, he will be widely hailed as having done something positive for the country -- just as I would have been happy if the garbo had just pushed the button and emptied my bin. But if he insists on turning dumpster-diving into a national mandate while doing nothing about even bigger threats, well, I doubt he will get such a warm reception in the long term.

Topics: Censorship, Government, Government AU, IT Employment

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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10 comments
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  • Political FUD

    Sen.Conroy would earn brownie points if he concentrated his efforts on fixing the FTTN(H) bottleneck created by Tel$tra. He should have had his legislation ready to hit the floor of the chamber as soon as he moved into his chair.

    He'd also earn additional brownie points if he'd had solid plans to get digital TV on air without the free to air stations dictating to the government.

    ISP filtering is a monumental waste of time effort & tax payers money. It will not stop any of the professional web sites or low life from continuing their nasty behaviour.
    Parents have it within their power to stop their children browsing these nasty abhorant sites, if they would only get off their backsides & pay attention to their children's educational needs and Net behaviour.

    WE do not need any government restricting our right & need to the freedom to read anything we feel like, as adults.

    Censorship, and this is just that, has never worked. History has demonstrated that all efforts have been a dismal failure & I have no reason to believe Sen. Conroy has the answer.
    Huntsman.ks
  • Suggestions?

    What does the author of this blog suggest the reader does to change the government's mind? After all, enough people will ensure that this person may not be re-elected. Isn't the government here to take care of the majority -- not just the high-moraled minority?
    anonymous
  • Ignoring your metaphor

    The bricks are banned from your bin - the robotic arm would have picked up the weight and then the sticker-slapping would follow. Are you that bittorrent user who spikes traffic and your bricks the data? Or is Optus the garbage truck that won't take your lump of data? Hmmm.
    anonymous
  • BB is watching you

    I've read elsewhere that this mandatory ISP-side Net filtering will have an opt-out to appease the anticensorship crowd. That is, when it comes in, you'll be able to request an exemption from your ISP if you don't want your content filtered.

    Now what's the bet that anyone who opts-out of this system will have their details quietly put on a "watch-list" of potential sex offenders or terrorists? Opt out of net filtering and your internet line will be subject to scrutiny to ensure you don't read or post anything "seditious" (remember we DO now have an anti-sedition law courtesy of the Libs).

    When this comes in, I'm going to opt-out. Then I'm going to "spook-bait" like crazy. That is, google for things like "bomb making instructions" or "naked children", and put bylines like "Smash the Infidels" in my emails, and see how long it takes for the Thought Police to kick my door in. I suggest to other concerned readers to adopt similar practices. Between everyone, we should be able to flood the Nanny State watchers with so much rubbish that their watch list will become all but useless.

    Yes, it's a dangerous risk. But how important is your freedom? Your forefathers risked and gave their lives for it. Will you?
    anonymous
  • Re: BB is watching you

    As like you, I am going to opt-out as well. Interesting idea for the "spook-baiting".

    The problem still exists that for the content filtering to work, it will still chew up server cycles, and this will essentially mean this scheme will slow the internet -- which is the opposite of Labour's promise to deliver better, faster broadband for all.

    This content filtering is one of the reasons I did not vote for the "Family First" party at the 2007 elections. Labour made no indication they were even thinking of doing this (not that it mattered in my seat). I feel so "duped".
    anonymous
  • Re: BB is watching you

    Why risk getting yourself in trouble spook-baiting? Anti-nuke and anti-war campaigners from the eighties will all tell you that a fill-the-jails policy never works, the govt just builds more jails.

    A better idea would be to set up your own spook-baiting botnet, using thousands of untraceable free email accounts. Now, that would work. After all, if two automatic spammers spam only each other, who else would get upset?

    I'm joking of course
    anonymous
  • Get what You Paid For

    I signed up for a 1.5mbit network connection to the internet! not a bloody network connection that is filtered and monitored with some idiot that does not know his rear end from a fish deciding what is allowed down my tubes!.

    Anyway it almost impossible and money wise impossible to filter the net 100% so do your best labor IT WONT WORK (or wont work how you noobs think it will).
    anonymous
  • Wont work

    There's plenty of things that don't work but still cost a lot of money. I'd much rather the government spent money on something useful; reduced tax, built roads, hired doctors and nurses, paid teachers more etc rather than wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on something which will only serve as a restriction to our technical development.
    anonymous
  • No opt out

    The Government canceled their "opt-out" election promise. The system is now mandatory to all Australians, using the previous Government's list of material unsuitable for kids as the base.

    I'm not sure why the notion that there's still the ability to opt-out persists. Conroy himself has confirmed on many occasions since the middle of October that he doesn't plan on making that option available.
    anonymous
  • Of course the driver wasn't going to empty your recycling bin when its contaminated with things that are not meant to be in there e.g. the bricks. One contaminated bin can send a whole truck due for recycling or composting to the landfill to be used as nothing. And the Automatic Arm does not get controlled by a single 'button'.
    shaandooo