Communications Minister Stephen Conroy will likely release a censored version of Enex Testlabs' report into the technical feasibility of ISP-level internet filtering, in an attempt to minimise the fallout on his political career.
ZDNet.com.au news editor Renai LeMay (Credit: CBS Interactive)
commentary How fast can you pedal backwards while making
it look like you're actually gaining ground?
That's the question that our noble communications minister and
his steadfast team of public servants are currently grappling with
as they figure out how they can distance the Federal Government
from its controversial policy to introduce an ISP-based filter to
shield Australia from objectionable content.
It has been more than a month since Conroy received a key report into trials of
ISP-based internet filtering technology from Melbourne-based testing facility Enex Testlabs.
Clearly either Conroy's definition of "shortly" differs
remarkably from that of the public, or his team is currently
figuring out how best to conduct the release of the report and the
associated consultation in a way that will cause as minimal damage
And who could blame him?
After all, the Enex report is likely to go one of two ways for
the government; and both are extremely undesirable.
Firstly, it could show that ISP-based internet filtering simply
does not work, in the sense that it will provide no meaningful
obstruction to those determined to obtain objectionable content
such as child pornography online.
This is the more likely scenario, given previous trials of the
technology. And Enex's results could potentially go even further —
they may show that ISP-based filtering technology has the potential
to significantly reduce internet speeds.
This is an outcome that would be disastrous for Conroy. It would
expose once and for all the veracity of long-standing claims by
industry experts that ISP-based filtering is a waste of time and
always has been, in the face of forceful government policy to the
And it would be bad publicity for Conroy if he were to
release a report recommending a technology that would slow internet
speeds — at the same time as building a National Broadband Network
to improve them.
The second alternative could prove even worse for the minister.
If the trial shows that ISP-based filtering does, in fact, work,
it will force Conroy to push ahead with implementing the technology
and stand by the policy he has pledged to implement, contingent on
the recommendations of the report.
The outcome of such a push would be far worse than bad publicity
for Conroy. In fact, it would be political suicide.
The filtering policy is so unpopular in Australia that it has
resulted in demonstrations on the streets, with comparisons to China's
draconian internet censorship regime, and is at least partially responsible of the
entrance of Europe's libertarian Pirate Party into Australian
I anticipate in the next few weeks that Conroy will release a heavily censored version of the Enex report
If Conroy does push ahead with implementing an extremely
unpopular ISP-based internet filtering policy in Australia, that
will be his legacy; and the history books will ignore any of his
other accomplishments in favour of vilifying him as one of the
internet's great villains. And, of course, a powerful and patient
lobby group will rise to push for the reversal of the filter policy
at every election.
It is for these reasons that I believe that no matter what the
Enex report ends up finding, Conroy will "spin" those results
somehow as being in that beautiful grey middle zone in an attempt
to distance himself from the entire debacle and remove the
unsightly canker sore from the intense gaze of his boss: Prime
Minister Kevin Rudd.
I anticipate in the next few weeks that Conroy
will release a heavily censored version of the Enex report — as he
did the report of the expert panel into the first National
Broadband Network tendering process.
This version of Enex's document will likely not come to a hard
conclusion either way about the veracity of ISP-based internet
filtering, or if it does, the language will be watered down. The
justification for implementing the controversial policy will
therefore be unclear, as will the recriminations towards Labor for
attempting to implement a flawed policy in the first place.
I suspect that this episode will be etched onto the brains of
civil libertarians and technology enthusiasts in Australia for a
long time to come, as the years when Australia nearly implemented
an online filtering regime that had all the potential to become as
draconian as that of our Communist cousins — especially, as some
have speculated, if it was concentrated in the hands of a single
administrator such as the National Broadband Network Company.