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“Making The Internet Safe” - a response

tiananmen_1383293a.jpg New: 06/04/09, u/d: 1/1/10
by Roly Roper

“Anything is possible ... if you don't have to do it yourself”

A commentary on Making The Internet Safe and some other papers on censorship from the Australian Family Association
Original: http://www.family.org.au/InternetSafeWeb.pdf
Obtained from: http://www.archive.org/http://www.family.org.au/InternetSafeWeb.pdf


Preface

The leaking of the ACMA blacklist has drawn public attention to the ongoing bi-partisan government policy of requiring ISP's to block “objectionable” Web material for Australian users.

This paper attempts to cast some light on the identity, position and claims of those filter advocates who have the ear of the Government, and contrast those with the Internet reality.

Since the leak there have been literally hundreds of news and blog items, almost universally critical of the proposal, but so far almost nothing has been heard in support of the policy apart from public statements by Senator Stephen Conroy, the responsible Minister, and the Australian Family Association (AFA) media spokesman John Morrissey.

Lately one of the strongest supporters, Bernadette McMenamin, CEO of ChildWise (ECPAT in Australia) while still in favour of filtering, has distanced herself from the all-encompassing filtering proposals being sought by the AFA and the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). Dec '09 and BMcM is back on TV in full support, still making the absurd emphatic claim that “it is NOT censorship!”.

Similarly Senator Conroy has been reported as backing off after the Insight forum (SBS) but the leaking of the blacklist and resulting public concerns have had no effect on the position of the Australian Christian Lobby.

ACL Confirms Porn Filter Stance Posted: Wednesday, 1 April 2009, 9:52 (EST)

The Australian Christian Lobby has confirmed that it has not changed its position on the Government's proposal to introduce ISP filtering of pornography.

“We support the Government's stated position to require ISP's to mandatorily block 'Refused Classification' (RC) content that has been identified by ACMA,”
ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace. (my emph.)

While this sounds straightforward “Refused Classification” covers a great deal more material than just child porn. A few examples include suicide instructions, incitement to criminal acts such as graffitti, explosives and “energetic materials”, photographs of dead people, and hate-speech, just to name some.

As the leaked blacklist has revealed, listing for example Abby Winters, even “soft core” child-free adult porn site will be included. One of the difficulties with this “simple” idea is that the law concerning RC material differs from state to state so the most restrictive, Western Australia, becomes the benchmark.

With John Morrissey, Jim Wallace and Bernadette McMenamin it seems that “thinking of the children” obstructs thinking about anything else, and despite the specific and implicit revelations in the blacklist these proponents continue to demand that ISP filtering should be given a “fair trial” and indeed be expanded to block “millions” of sites. To be fair to McMenamin, she takes a more limited view of what should be filtered, concentrating specifically on child abuse material, while the AFA and ACL want much broader Internet censorship with a critically different aim of preventing accidental encounters.

McMenamin has however joined Senator Conroy in slanderiously questioning the motives of their opponents...

“If filtering of child pornography cannot work then why is there so much anger, fear and resentment to any attempt to block child pornography and other illegal sites? This is what I don't understand.” - McMenamin

This grossly offensive and inaccurate remark was natually met by a tit-for-tat with Ms McMenamin in turn being accused of being simply an attention-seeker living off the public teat (ChildWise reportedly having received $A660,000 in Federal funding last year and complained bitterly this year that its taxpayer funding had not been increased). This was one of her less helpful contributions to the debate.

It is not in Ms McMemamin's interests to understand that even if a perfect Web filter can be devised, it still leaves utterly untouched the non-Web dataflow where the real child porn action is, peer-to-peer networks - it is purely cosmetic rather than actual.

One source of industry anger is the inability of proponents such as Ms McMenamin to deal honestly with the problems that have been pointed out.

Proponents: Why not try filtering?
Industry: It is a waste of time and money because (...).
Proponents: Yes, but why not try filtering?

It's like trying to explain to a deaf child that the proposal is similar to “Red Flag” laws enacted for the first motorcars, and motivated by the same ignorant fears of the new.

redflag-12903-p00001-000875-140.jpg

It is most unfortunate that Bernadette McMenamin and Senator Conroy feel free to go over the top and slander honest and experienced opponents of filtering as supporters of child abuse when it is not the shared object but the best means that is at issue.

It should be said however that Ms McMenamin's participation in an on-going debate on the stilgherrian blog has been very welcome and a credit to her that she has been willing to step up to a pretty hostile crowd and make her argument, however her arguments in favor of filtering have been pretty comprehensively demolished by some of the most experienced IT people in the industry - the filter will mostly be a gaping hole because bypassing an ISP filter will be even more trivial than disabling a home based one. “It's almost trivial to get around the filters” - Ross Wheeler, CEO of Albury.net.au quoted in Time, while gadgetsonthego blog explains to parents and the ACL what their children already know about proxy servers and such.

Filtering Scope

Most casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that the filter will only apply to child porn, what Senator Conroy has repeatedly called “the worst of the worst”, and who could be against that? Well, one tiny problem we will return to is that the leaked blacklist doesn't actually include the worst of the worst - it misses exactly the material that Conroy and McMenamin are talking about.

But Senator Conroy has made a couple of things clear, firstly that filtering will include a lot more than just child porn; and secondly that he isn't really sure where the limits are, responding to difficult questions with bluster and contradictory answers. When a politician starts blustering or non-answering media questions it's time to sit up and pay careful attention to what they are trying to slip through unnoticed.

It should be noted that Senator Conroy is a conservative Catholic, and that the Rudd government is hostage to the Senate vote of conservative Family First Senator Fielding. As a result the fundamentalist, extremist, and unrepresenative Australian Christian Lobby has the ear of the government on Internet censorship.

While proponents talk of the need to block “millions” of sites, real filtering products actually cover about 250,000 URL's. Part of this disparity comes from different definitions of “protecting children”.

The ACL are concerned with blocking all kinds of pornography for everybody, not the much smaller target of child exploitation material which Bernadette McMenamin is seeking. In fact other papers on the AFA website make it clear this lobby advocate much more restrictive censorship standards being imposed across the board on all media in respect of nudity, language, and depiction of non-mainstream sexuality (i.e. chase gays back into the closet). Since they call for PG-rated material to be banned the logical conclusion is that they would like all available media, including the Internet, to be G-rated.

The whole purpose of the proposed filtering system is that children not be subjected to unsolicited harmful material. - Jim Wallace (ibid, my emph.).

One of the questions we will be looking at is the true extent of unsolicited exposure - if there is a real foundation for concern, but note that prevention of the actual abuse during material creation doesn't rate a mention in the ACL papers.

Again we have a split between McMenamin's aim of stopping children being exploited in the making of material, while to the ACL the “whole purpose” is stop any child in Australia from viewing any “unacceptable” material at all. It should be clearly understood that these two similar sounding aims have been conflated under “thinking of children”, but that they are actually very different, indeed incompatable, aims.

Even AFA fellow-travellers in the anti-abortion movement are now muted in support since one of their own was discovered on the list - an ironic object example of exactly the sort of unintended outcome that the despised liberterians fear of unaccountable ISP filtering.

The government being in the business of compiling and distributing a “Directory of Depravity” is another irony that hasn't gone unnoticed, nor the fact that such a leak was widely predicted (and those who know the Internet well might say it was a dead certainty). This might also account for why there has been a deafening silence from the mainstream churches in the current debate - they recognise a sinking brick when they see one.

Unlike the Classification Board which provide public reports on what has been rated and why, the ACMA operates in total secrecy. Thus the leaked blacklist is important as the first public insight into the standards and values that inform blacklisting decisions, and more generally how effective the ACMA is in blocking content - does it deliver the goods?

At the moment the answer is a resounding “NO!” On the basis of this blacklist it most certainly does not even come close to the primary aim of filtering child porn, and without a major change in thinking it seems unlikely to.

On the other hand it does include many sites, such as the critique of Genesis 19:30, on very dubious grounds.

And I mean, come on ACMA, you've got some real problems here with Genesis. Apart from the obvious with Noah's family (in)breeding - in chapter 16 Abraham gets his wifes' maid pregnant; in 19:8 Lot offers his virginal daughters to a ravening mob, and by 19:36 “Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father” (to continue the family line). So what's the take away message here? That gay sex will get you fried, but drunken incest is okay? Blacklist me if you like ACMA, but that's the direct quote from my KJV Bible.

I'd vote for putting Bible.Com on the blacklist, or at least Genesis.Com . . . but this entry illustrates how far the process of blocking child porn has already gone off the rails, and who's driving the demand for filtering blacklists.

But if the site above isn't “fair comment”, then how about this?

“That is because Islam encourages terrorism and human rights abuses.”
Bill Muehlenberg, Christian Today Australia Columnist, 1 April 2009

Personally I think those darned Buddhists are a bit of a worry too.

Addendum: 1/1/10
This week the satirical site stephenconroy.com.au was issued with an auDA “take down” notice allowing only three hours for a defence, and forced to relocate outside the .au domain. This is an apposite and utterly transparent case of the improper use of influence to silence an opponent on a question of great public moment, and well illustrates the recursive nature of censorship.


Terminology

Some of the problems of this debate arise due to very different definitions of basic key elements such as the actual scope of “pornography”, and the ages of the “children” under discussion.

This isn't helped by the fact that most commentators haven't actually seen what they are talking about, much less gained an overview of the true compexity of the issue; that there has been a simplistic conflation of a number of thorny issues that are fundamentally social, not technical in nature, and which filtering would only hide from view rather than addressing and fixing.

While there are real problems of exploitation there are also interests served by whipping the general public into a Moral Panic about child sexual abuse. It serves other agendas if a real risk is magnified out of proportion to seem much worse than it is. There is both political and commercial mileage in it.

One unintended result of a Moral Panic is that the real portion of the problem, in this case real children being really abused, is lost and devalued by the imaginary portion of the expanded “risk”. In this case on-the-ground policing has reduced resources while the distraction of ISP filtering is explored instead.

Bernadette McMenamin provides us with a neat encapsulation of the fear-inducing statistics that have been much quoted by the proponents of Internet censorship...

Child pornography is one of the fastest growing online businesses generating approximately $US3 billion ($3.43 billion) each year. It is estimated that 100,000 commercial websites offer child pornography and more than 20,000 images of child pornography are posted on the internet every week.
Filters needed to battle child porn, Bernadette McMenamin, CEO of ChildWise (ECPAT in Australia), Opinion, The Australian, 8 January 2008

The short answer to such questions is that the 'statistics'/'estimates' quoted above have no factual basis, and were invented at least 5 years ago.
Statistics Laundering: false and fantastic figures (my emph.)

In a word: fabricated.

ChildWise and the AFA have cried “wolf!” and rightly have a crediblity problem.

Below we will meet some rather different findings; that the bulk of what is technically child pornography (i.e. images of naked under 18's) has been created since 2000, and that a very large proportion is generated and consumed by peers - those around the same age.


The AFA Position

InternetSafeWeb.pdf

Curiously for such a serious debate, the main papers in support of Internet filtering by the AFA required the use of Google cache and The Wayback Machine archives to recover and read. At the same time that filtering blew up as an issue the official AFA website was reduced to a basic “under construction” front page.

Given the AFA position on the issue I would have thought that they would shift heaven and earth to have their web site up and presenting their arguments, not hiding them under a bushel. After the difficulty I had in obtaining their position paper, having to do some digging to get it, I'm left with the impression that they would like to avoid detailed examination.

Public concern is growing rapidly over the vast and growing array of seriously disturbing and illegal content on the internet. (ibid)

There's that problematic word “illegal” again. Actually much of the material on the blacklist is not illegal in Australia. There is little doubt that the AFA would like to change that, but it's currently another misleading overstatement.

There is no doubt that there is a large quantity of material on the Internet which some people find disturbing. That it is a “growing array” or causing a “rapidly growing public concern” are much more dubious claims. This “concern” is not reflected in public opinion polls which show a majority of Australians are not in favor of ISP-level filtering, in the poor takeup of free filters, or in struggling Family-friendly Internet feeds.

For such a huge problem Australians are doing surprisingly little about it. Or is the problem almost entirely imaginary?

There is no one “silver bullet” capable of filtering such content. However, as a matter of principle, what is illegal in other forms should also be illegal on the internet. Sites with illegal content should be shut down, or if they originate overseas, be blocked by filters.
(ibid)

There are actually two issues here. The first is the definition of “illegal content”. There are already differing standards applied to different media such as books, films, television, and video games. As we have seen from intense questioning of Senator Conroy on Q&A (ABC-TV) and Insight (SBS) even the Minister cannot give a clear statement of what is considered illegal in the Internet environment.

After an initial agreement on child abuse any community consensus quickly falls apart as we move along the spectrum from adult hard to soft core to cheezecake to showbiz glamour.

The initial incorrect blacklisting of a site carrying photographs by Bill Henson (officially rated PG), and the forced reversal of that decision, gives a small insight into the confusion at the ACMA about what actually is, and is not, illegal on the Internet. So a life-size photograph on a gallery wall is legal, but a reproduction on a Web site isn't. But now it is. Confused?

The position of the AFA on this particular issue can be surmised from the fact that their site carries contributions from Bernadette McMenamin, Child Wise CEO, the driving force behind the original Bill Henson photographs complaint. Another paper, Pornography, Censorship and Classification: time for change claims that the current censorship standards are far too lax and need to become much more restrictive.

Material which is classified X or RC, should be prohibited. Material which is classified, or which would be classified, MA15+ or R18+ should be restricted so that children under 15 or 18 respectively are unable to easily gain access to such material.

Streaming audiovisual and chat room services are difficult to classify because the content is created and delivered in real time. Therefore there need to be enforceable rules for such services with sufficient penalties for breaches to deter creators and transmitters of such real time content from violating the rules.

To prevent such offences from occurring there should be a registration scheme and limited number range for any services offering audiovisual, audio or visual sex services. This scheme should parallel that currently operating for telephone sex services, which requires age verification by application for a personal identification number or payment by credit card. (ibid, my emph.).

X-rated material is not currently illegal. What the AFA are demanding here is that currently legal X-rated material be Refused Classification, i.e. banned, and that effectively means the Canberra mail-order porn industry.

The lesser classifications are already restricted access by suitable means such as ID checks at films and black-bagging magazines at newsagents. Are they really so unaware of the current situation they are commenting on?

This AFA paper makes it very clear that there is a considerable gap between current community standards, and far more restrictive standards across the board being actively sought by the AFA.

But enforceable rules and penalties for sites outside Australia such as YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, and a slew of others? The quote above represents ignorance of pan-galactic proportions.

I suppose this sounds reasonable to anybody who doesn't know that even the most freewheeling sites still have rules against child porn and a direct way to complain about any content. A more pointed example is the 4Chan imageboard which is already ACMA Blacklisted, yet has rules against posting illegal material which are typically enforced by moderators within seconds. For perspective, this site alone claims 5 million visitors and half a million posts a day - four posts a second. Those who have never actually participated in a chat room or forum wouldn't know that bannings for rule (ToS) infringements are common.

Let's also ignore the utter lack of legal authority the ACMA has over the vast majority of Web sites.

Most Web sites already have some form of “registration scheme”, but the AFA phrase “and limited number range” is simply meaningless in the context of the Web. To try and treat the diversity of Internet social networking, forums, image banks, etc., as if they were simply phone sex lines is laughably ignorant and utterly unworkable.

With the vast amount of material being posted daily to sites like YouTube (estimated at 4 hours every minute) the only practical way posts can be reviewed is by other users, who can then click on the “alert/report” button if they think the item is against the rules, and if the admins/mods agree it will be removed and the offender given a timeout or barred.

YouTube in particular have been very responsive and conservative in dealing with complaints. If the AFA can come up with a better way of censoring content “created and delivered in real time” I'm sure many people would be very interested, otherwise it's just another case of Future Shock.


Which leads to the second issue, what action to take against offenders? On-shore hosts carrying illegal material are already subject to serious sanctions. Ignoring a Take Down Order (TDO) can earn a fine of $A11,000 per day and a potential 10 years in the slammer, so we can tick that part as already taken care of.

Off-shore hosts are, of course, not subject to Australian law, so the options are more limited, however it appears that most governments are in agreement about material that depicts children engaged in sexual activity, particularly with adults.

Hosting providers for the most part seem sensitive to the issue and eager to prevent such use outside their Terms of Service. In any case the hosts themselves may have been the victims of identity fraud where the account has been set up using a stolen identity.

Where the host is not co-operative a simple inter-governmental or inter-law inforcement request will normally be sufficient to see an offending site shut down.

Otherwise, as a last resort, they should be “blocked by filters”. If we accept this argument for a moment, the question then arises, where is the best place to filter the content? At ISP level, or at user level?

The major thrust of [the Howard] Federal Government policy has been to provide free, home-based filters to families. The problem with home filters is that they are easy to bypass.
(ibid)

Again there are two points. Firstly, that while the government-provided filters may have under-estimated the savvy of teen geeks, there are commercial products that claim to be hack-proof. But if parents are not going to actually take up free filters then their effectiveness is a bit moot.

The second point the AFA seems unable to understand is that bypassing ISP level Web filtering is even more trivial than a user-level filter. Apart from the availability of proxy-servers, it is estimated that Web traffic is now less than half all Internet traffic, with the balance consisting mainly of peer-to-peer (p2p) exchanges, and Virtual Private Networks (VPN's) as used by banks and corporations.

While filtering might be extendable to p2p, encrypted VPN's present a problem of an entirely different order.

The AFA expresses great faith that the advance of technology will enable a brick to fly, but this is a two-edged banana in that every advance in filtering is more then matched by increased abilty to avoid such restrictions - that is the history of the Internet. The most obvious example is a decade of futile attempts by the music industry to stuff the digital genie back in the bottle.

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. - John Gilmore

We also have a bait-and-switch here. The main premise of filtering is to protect children; firstly to prevent accidental encounters with objectional material, to make the Internet safe for children to browse; and secondly to discourage child exploitation in the creation of material by reducing demand. That is the noble bait.

The switch comes with “easily bypassed”. Now we are not talking about accidental encounters at all, but rather curious teens seeking out forbidden material. This non-accidental “deliberately seeking” aspect is not something that the AFA wants to deal with.

For a reality check I discussed the issue with a library SysOp with years of public access experience. Initially there had been cases of people pulling up sexual material, but guess what? They were all teenage boys. This observation is supported by the AFA paper;

In early 2003 the Australia Institute released a paper demonstrating that 38% of 16 and 17 year old boys were deliberately using the Internet to see sexually explicit material. (ibid)

With a rearrangement of library terminals that allowed the staff easier supervision the problem of such “accidents” simply disappeared, demonstrating that they were not accidental but deliberate.

Certainly the library could install a filter on its server, but it was seen as a total non-issue, a fix for a problem they just don't have any more. And the real fix wasn't technical, but better supervision. Put another way, with proper supervision such “unintended accidents” don't occur in an unfiltered environment.

To be fair to the AFA I'll bring in a supporting argument from a different document on their site. http://www.family.org.au/News/porn_wave.htm quotes Internet searches link to sex, Sunday Herald Sun, July 25, 2004...

Children are being bombarded with hardcore pornography while innocently searching the Internet. ... A search for websites featuring pop star Sophie Monk returned links to four pornography pages among it's top 30 sites, ...

Alarming. They aren't specific about which search engine they used, but I tried to replicate their results using Google (with safe search switched off). Actually there are no porn sites in the first 100 listings, only fan and celeb sites, YouTubes of her music videos, etc. All teen celeb mag stuff.

One can certainly question the values of these sites, their concentration on the trivial and banal, and their sexualisation of teen and pre-teen girls, but that is a very much larger social issue than its depiction on the Internet. They self-censor and are careful not to offend. They may report on the latest celeb nude pix to hit the Internet, but they will never actually carry them or links to them.

The claim is 4 in 30 which is an alarming 13% - but actually in the first 100 listings there are exactly zero adult sites - 0.0%. Now far beit from me to suggest that perhaps this claim is just a little overcooked, but my attempt to recreate it produced a very different, and utterly un-alarming, result. Since I had no hits with with Google SafeSearch switched off there seemed little point in repeating the exercise with it set to medium or strict.

Any parent that allows their child unsupervised access to Google with SafeSearch off is not fair dinkum about protecting their child from adult Web content.

Federal Government policy has also relied on having the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) provide an official blacklist of prohibited sites for optional use to internet service-providers (ISPs) and providers of commercial filter software. The problem with the blacklist is that it registers a mere 850 sites, a very small proportion of the millions of problematic sites accessible online. (ibid, my emph.)

The number above is somewhat dated with the leaked “18-Mar-2009” ACMA not-the-Blacklist carrying some 1169 entries. Of these there appear to be 1124 unique entries. This difference is for two reasons, firstly there are 31 cases where a page on a site has been blocked, but the whole site is also blocked, making the item-specific entry redundant. The second cause is that there are 14 straight duplicates in the list.

ACMA Blacklist “Rubbish”
Our source says around two-thirds of the URLs in the ACMA blacklist don't go anywhere or are otherwise out of date. By comparison, their own company's list contains around quarter of a million URLs covering child-related activity alone, checked every three months to remove out of date or inactive entries.

In other words, ACMA's blacklist of stumbled-upon material reported by the public represents maybe 0.2% of the child-abuse material on the public web, let alone what might be traded secretly. - Crikey.com

We should also note the disparity between the “millions of problematic sites” estimated by the AFA and the “around quarter of a million” in a real-world filter, keeping in mind many sites are blocked for other than CP reasons.

But the claim that two-thirds now don't go anywhere is just plain wrong. A better estimate would be that two-thirds still lead to porn of some sort, however this doesn't change the validity of Crikey's conclusion. But if we accept the much larger AFA estimate of “millions” then the blacklisted percentage becomes microscopic.

A scan of the list carried out by Xenu Link Sleuth on 3rd of April 2009 produced the following results;

All pages, by result type:

ok1021 URLs87.04%
not found31 URLs2.64%closed
no such host69 URLs5.88%vanished
forbidden request11 URLs0.94%inaccessable
cancelled / timeout29 URLs2.47%
timeout3 URLs0.26%
connection reset1 URLs0.09%
no info to return2 URLs0.17%
auth required1 URLs0.09%inaccessable
pending2 URLs0.17%endless load
error 120041 URLs0.09%
parameter incorrect2 URLs0.17%list comments
Total1173 URLs100.00%

So in reality around 85% are still active and accessable, however of these some are sites whos' content has been taken down, either suspended for ToS infringement, or only page frameworks with no images. The first group show that direct complaints to hosts do work; the second group may also be responding to direct complaints, or simply be a result of the itinerant nature of most adult sites.

Some sites seem to have beefed up their Front-of-House warnings of adult content, and Abby Winters now requires a date of birth for entry. Obviously you can enter whatever you like, but there does seem to be a response to parental concerns on some adult sites, with gateway page links to suppliers of home filtering products such as CYBERSitter and rating services such as SafeSurf.


Self-shots and webcams

I pull this group out because it presents us with a far more general problem of protecting children in an age of exploding capability of personal technology. In just a decade the cellphone has become a mandatory teenage accessory, many now with video capability.

My parents thought Hendrix was crap and I should cut my hair. I think doof is crap and my son should grow some. But the grandchildren listen silently to their MP3 players and maintain SMS text contact with their age-group tribe. They will be the second or third wave of the “connected” generations born after the Web and cellphones.

Again we need to pause for a moment and look to the process before the content. As water is wet, so it is in the basic nature of the Internet that information replicates and circulates (ref: Yongii Masuda). So once something is uploaded anywhere there is a pretty good chance that it will be copied elsewhere and become un-erasable from the net - out there forever.

Some 500 days ago a post was made to a social networking forum with a pic of a topless young girl with long hair, obviously from a webcam, claiming to be 13 years old and sexually eager. This may not be what it seems, but there is little doubt that girls from about 13 up are taking pictures of themselves naked.

cockslut-231872.jpg
Yet another “tween” with a webcam in her bedroom

How these actually find their way onto the Web or useNet may be debatable, but the fact of an underage girl taking a picture of herself naked in a mirror is obvious.

selfshot-334307.jpg
Vile child pornographer, or victim?

In a sense (after Masuda) it doesn't really matter how these became public because anything in the digital domain is already prone to “leakage”, and from the moment the image is taken the chance of it leaking only gets greater with time. Even so, there still seem to be a lot of self-posts with some naked girls holding up “timestamps” to prove they are posting in real time (as illustrated above).

Digital cameras are everywhere, and nudity has always been an early use of emerging technologies. I'll bet the first photocopy of someone's bum happened the same night it was invented. My own family archive contains a nude study of my late grandmother in her teens taken by my late grandfather with his new-fangled camera and home darkroom.

So there is good reason to think that we are going to see a lot more self-produced images and video of actuality, as we already are seeing in reality cop shows and traffic and security cams.

The entire discussion about child pornography is predicated on the concept of children being exploited and forced into unwilling nudity or sexual acts.

No aspect of this discussion deals with this growing trend for under-age teens, legally “children”, taking and posting images of themselves that are technically “child pornography”.

One ugly and unexpected application of these laws has been to charge the very “children” who are supposed to be protected, with producing child porn.

Since a growing proportion of what has been defined as “child porn” is now being taken and posted by the very “children” themselves, and cellphone cameras aren't expected to go away any time soon, we can only expect more such injustices.

The motivation isn't money, but normal teen anxiety about bodily changes, magnified by youth marketing, the celebrity industry, and available technology.

It is perfectly legal to use any means, including cosmetic surgery, to turn your child into an living Elizabeth Taylor doll for the Pagent circuit. Who can honestly say that the still unsolved rape and murder of this pre-teen in her own home is in no way related to her premature public sexualisation?

jonbenet-showgirl.jpg    358-showgirl-shc7254.jpg
Pagent Queen JonBenét Patricia Ramsey age six years (left), real Las Vegas showgirl (right)

Part of this Pagent and child actor world are the child model and casting agencies who are paid by parents to manage and promote their children for fashion shoots and in show business.

Part of this promotion includes photo galleries on the Web, so-called “non-nude” sites.

Some of these have been put on the ACMA Blacklist presumably in response to a complaint, yet these sites are filled with images of children no more or less sexualised or pornographic than the picture of JonBenét above left.


Is filtering viable?

Even the AFA seems to be in two minds about the effectiveness of filtering generally. On one hand we have the opinion from 2002;

Moreover, many of the software programs meant to restrict access to cyberporn are far from fool-proof. They can easily be circumvented. Indeed, one analysis found “profound flaws in the effectiveness of such software”. Another survey found that “even the best software programs do not offer complete protection”. As one authority put it, “software programs can serve as online padlocks, but there's no guarantee that your children won't find a way to pick the lock”.
Problems with the Internet, Bill Muehlenberg, The Australian Family, March 2002, p. 25, original: http://www.family.org.au/internet.pdf

So filtering, and even those home filters that can be configured for whitelist operation only, are ineffective, yet a centralised one-size-fits-all filter will be effective. It seems natural that people will concentrate on the known weaknesses of old systems and the proposed strengths of new unknown systems, but with filtering the disjoint seems extreme.

By 2007 however the AFA was advising members to;

Filter the home computers
Install a filtering package on all personal computers in the home and regularly upgrade. The most well regarded filters at the present time are ContentWatch, CyberSitter and CYBERPatrol. There are currently two free internet filters that can be downloaded: K9 Web Protection (http://www.k9webprotection.com/), and Naomi (http://www.radiance.m6.net/). Be aware that many technologically savvy children can get around filtering so occasionally check that the filter is functioning.
Parenting adolescents towards safe use of the www..., unsigned, Family Update Vol.22 No.2 2007
Original: http://www.family.org.au/FamilyUpdate22-2Web.pdf

Then, only six months later this contrary opinion was expressed;

However this policy [of user-end filters] is flawed. Many Australian libraries have indicated they do not want to instal such software since they oppose any form of censorship on principle. Many parents do not understand how to instal, let alone how to operate such software.

Clean-feed filters by ISPs needed The only effective protection for all children is clean-feed filtering provided by the Internet Service Provider - a service already available in the UK from ISPs British Telecom and Telenor. The powerful ISP industry in Australia is strongly resisting such a measure here, claiming that filters at ISP level would slow down the internet for everyone.
Online pornography and children - (AFA Journal Vol.28 No.2 2007), Mrs Roslyn Phillips (Research Officer, Festival of Light Australia)
original: http://www.family.org.au/phillips.pdf

In reality librarians are not opposed to censorship on principle, and are very mindful of the content of the books, magazines, CD's, DVD's, and Internet usage. They actually claim that the need is imaginary - closer supervision has worked where filtering would fail.

It should be noted that a key difference with her UK example is that it is a an opt-in feed, similar to the family-friendly feeds already nationally available in Australia. Nor do these examples answer the slowdown argument when every overseas fetch will be forced through a filter with perhaps millions of blocked entries to check against. And there are already clear signs ISP filtering will be spectacularly ineffective in its central mission.

Again there is the internal contradiction - local filtering won't work, but ISP filtering will. We know that tech-savvy teens can bypass a local filter in seconds, but Mrs Phillips is assuming that these same tech-savvy kids will be stumped by an ISP-level filter.

The AFA has been totally deaf to the industry chant of “Proxies! Peer-to-peer! VPN's!” It's not so much a matter of the bucket having a hole in the bottom, more of not having any bottom at all. Most teens are already well aware of these alternatives.

ISP-level filtering has been dubbed the Great Firewall of Oz, but a better metaphore is a massive gateway and drawbridge in the middle of an open field, as effective a barrier as the Arc de Triomph or the Brandeburg Gate. Impressive, but you can simply walk around it.

The ACMA has already blacklisted one proxy-server, but it really has a tiger by the tail if it thinks its going to block access to all proxy servers and URL compressors.

Circumventing ISP-level filtering is actually somewhat easier than a local filter, since in the extreme case a local filter can operate in “whitelist” mode, only allowing connection to specifically approved URL's, and maintain full rollback logs.

Many companies already deploy filters on their in-house servers for productivity reasons, and these systems are effective where the logfiles are regularly checked. Similarly, parents cannot simply set and forget. Parents cannot simply socialise their local responsibilities onto remote ISP's. Whatever filter is used supervision is also vital, and the best person to do that is the parent. And if really effective control and monitoring is required then a local filter is the only choice.

Yes a teen may bypass or defeat any filter, but this is no longer an Internet problem, any more than sneaking out at night.

A real danger with local filters that has been ignored by the AFA is that the filter must have access somehow to a blacklist, albeit encrypted somehow. Painful experience has shown time and again that encrypted systems get busted open. They represent a particularly juicy and vulnerable target to too many highly skilled and motivated people. And it only takes one as the ACMA leak should clearly show.

(16/1/10) Already there is news of software developments that will regenerate the ACMA Blacklist by spidering or “dial-hammering” for banned sites. An obvious counter-move would be to make such Blacklist reverse-engineering illegal, but that isn't likely to make any practical difference.

The ACMA is entering into an endless round of measures and counter-measures in an arena where the odds are stacked mightily against them, and is throwing large lumps of public money down the drain in a futile quest. Schoolgirls will still be convicted for creating and circulating child pornography, and single moms will still be sued for millions because their kids downloaded some music, but nothing will really change where it counts.


Filtering isn't “censorship”

In the article Support for ISP Filtering by Anh Nguyen it is asserted that ISP filtering "can hardly be called censorship" but as protecting people from illegal activity.

Bernadette McMenamin CEO of ChildWise has echoed this curiously convoluted logic.
On TV news Dec '09 “it is NOT censorship!”.

I have to say that this view is just plain daft - the process of making it illegal to view certain material, whatever it relates to, is called “censorship”. Censorship is exactly what filtering is, at home or the ISP, and to claim otherwise is simply nonsense.

What is their problem with being honest about that? One can only guess why they feel the need to spin obvious censorship as something else, but it's a useful side-step that avoids the complications of having to consider issues of freedom of speech and expression.

The inclusion of a site that highlights the incest explicit in Gen:19 is a prime example of incest being used as a cat's-paw, an excuse, to exclude critical views and commentry. Similarly it appears that Scientologists have used the cat's-paw of copyright to try and silence their critics. The anti-abortion movement was also a target of somebody wanting to make a political point. These aren't party-political, but they are certainly socio-political.

It is stated as fact that the proposed filtering scheme will come in two parts... basically a core of mandatory sites, and an extended opt-out range. (note opt-out, not opt-in, meaning lists identifying those who want out rather than those who want in, with potentially worrying implications for misuse). Senator Conroy has been much less definite about the blacklist coverage in public statements.

This is already being performed, to a lesser degree, through the current the blacklists supplied by the government. (ibid)

To be quite clear, the only place the blacklist currently meets the user is in home filtering software. No normal ISP user is yet subject to filtering based on this list, however the vast majority of Internet entities will quickly act to remove anything like child porn and cancel offenders accounts when it is brought to their attention.

The AFA seems to know more than Senator Conroy. This is one area of considerable confusion and almost daily changes. Senator Conroy has stated that all Refused Classification material will be subject to mandatory blacklisting. This is a huge range of stuff and includes a lot of material that it is quite legal in other formats such as ink-on-paper. (Q&A, Insight, repeated Dec'09)

How much “lesser degree” can be seen in the table of responses to a linkchecker running the ACMA blacklist. In fact just under 90% of the blacklisted sites are still directly accessable as of April 2009. Some sites have gone but it's clear that secret blacklisting has had only a minimal, if any, effect. The major impact will be with those small number of people who have bothered to install a home filter that gets updates.

Despite the confusion there is a clear intent by the ACMA, Senator Conroy, and the AFA, to hold the Internet to a higher standard than other media including films and free-to-air television. The blacklisting of the Hanson fan site material which is rated PG strongly suggests the ACMA target is G-rating.

Why not give some families a chance to pilot to see if it suits their requirements? (ibid)

Besides yet again misrepresenting the nature of the proposed testing, before we spend several million dollars on a pilot we might ask about existing filter technology available to concerned parents.

In fact there are already three ISP's, one national, that offer Family Friendly clean feeds from systems specifically designed from the ground up.

There are also several user-end filters (as detailed above), but Anh Nguyen claims they are too difficult for parents to use, and too easy for tech-savvy kids to bypass.

The most notable thing has been the lack of uptake, even when the Howard Government spent millions providing and promoting a free home filter.

With only around 30,000 parents taking up the offer, about one-tenth of the project estimations, one has to question the real need if there is so little uptake of a heavily-promoted free Government approved filter.

When is a link, not a link?

When the first ACMA Blacklist appeared on WikiLeaks the Government was quick to deny it was the list, but then added WikiLeaks itself to the banned list.

This resulted in something of a paradox; how could it be illegal to access a bogus blacklist? As the steps the ACMA took to censor WikiLeaks unfolded it became obvious that the list must indeed be genuine.

One of these steps occured when Whirlpool linked to the bogus list, only to be promptly presented with a “take down” order by the ACMA.

I see a few serious problems emerging with this simple-minded response by authorities to a complex, and apparently ill-undestood, situation.

The lifeblood of the Web is the Hyperlink, or just link. The quick way to go anywhere on the Web is click on the link. But there are other, less direct, ways of providing a link, for example;

  1. Link: ACMA Blacklist
  2. Text: http://filestore.com/ACMABlacklist.zip
  3. Redirection: http://tinyurl.com/1KapLOu9ubI
  4. Re-redirection: http://tinyurl.com/1KapLOu9ubI . . .
    http://tinyurl.com/CFqfF1cCL3o . . .
  5. Proxy: http://proxy.com/?http://filestore.com/ACMABlacklist.zip
  6. Proxy redirect: http://proxy.com/?http://tinyurl.com/CFqfF1cCL3o
  7. Direction: “Google: ACMA Blacklist
  8. Instruction: “Find it yourself”

After the ACMA attempt to block WikiLeaks the number of download sites for the not-the-Blacklist list grew by about 100 a day until two weeks after the list leaked there were more than 1000 download sites carrying it.

It is a given that through hyperlinks every webpage is linked to every other page on the Web, so my questions to Senator Conroy are these;

  1. if a site can be banned for having a link to a banned site (in contrast to hosting banned material itself), how many links must a site be removed from a banned site not to be itself contaminated and banned, literally by association?
  2. Since the ACMA apparently Blacklisted a proxy server, does the Government understand the role of proxy sites and shortURL sites (which host no material), and blind fileservers?
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