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“A gold-plated Government tool of the First Order”

by Roly Roper

Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Communications, etc.

Internet censorship in Australia really hit the fan this week with the Swedish-based site WikiLeaks.org publishing what it insists is the ACMA blacklist of banned URL's. (just for providing a link to this banned site I am potentially exposed to a fine of $A11,000/day, see below)

The Minister responsible, Senator Stephen Conroy (pictured), has on one hand denied the list is genuine, yet on the other ordered a police investigation into the leak.

Pardon me if this seems internally contradictory.

This has set Senator Conroy and the Government on a collision course with Swedish law which makes such an investigation illegal. At this stage WikiLeaks has come out fighting and even has a favorable precedent.

To give lie to Senator Conroy's claims that the blacklist is not genuine, WikiLeaks has now published two updated versions apparently showing a panic clean-up by ACMA.

Moral Majority, or just Moral Panic?

“If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.”
Senator Conroy, ABC News, Dec 31, 2007 [source]

Conroy's statement amounts to nothing more than a pre-emptive smear of all opposition as child molesters, and trivialises a very important issue. Conroy's opponents are out for blood, and this grossly offensive extremist comment is in large part responsible. It is hardly surprising that opponents are now questioning the honesty and agenda of proponents.

Jim Wallace, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, which supports the Internet filter, said the questions surrounding the published list had done nothing to change his opinion.

“It's going to take time to develop any system and the processes that surround it. We don't know at what stage of investigation these names on the blacklist were,” he said. “It's a real shame that people can ? through illegal means ? challenge something which is purely and simply aimed at giving children a safer experience on the Internet.” AP

It must be remarked that the Government initially disowned the list, and that a primary problem with Government secrecy is that the electorate has no legal means of discovering what is being imposed.

A key problem is that the emerging system is far from “purely and simply” protecting children from being spectators or even victims of abuse, and it's grossly dishonest to pretend that it is. In fact it is likely to be ineffective, it could even be counter-productive to those worthy aims.

Save the Children opposes internet filter
By Emma Rodgers Posted Thu Jul 9, 2009 2:02pm AEST

Save the Children says the proposed filter scheme is heavy handed and poorly targeted. Save the Children has urged the Federal Government to abandon its plans to censor the internet, saying it will not be effective in protecting kids from online dangers.

The child protection group is one of several organisations including Civil Liberties Australia, and the National Children's and Youth Law Centre who have today released a joint statement opposing the proposed mandatory internet service provider (ISP) filter.

The statement says the filter will neither work to shield children from explicit material nor stop child pornography from being distributed on the internet.
ABC

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The yardstick that is being used as to what is “unacceptable” is utterly subjective and contains catch-all definitions “such as matters of an abhorrent nature” that has already been used to justify the blocking of just about anything (as we will see). Worse, it seems to be expanding as we watch.
{“abhorrent” - hateful, disgusting (to person) OED.
“What is pornography to one man is the laughter of genius to another.” D. H. Lawrence
}

In a letter to Crikey.com (23/12/09) Senator Conroy reasserts “The government?s filtering policy applies only to the worst of the worst content ... mandatory filtering will only apply to RC-rated content.”

With respect Senator, that is manifest bullshit. So far it appears confirmed that the following sites had been included on the blacklist;

This last is particularly interesting, indeed amazing, because truechristian.com simply draws attention to what follows in the Bible after Lot's wife is turned to a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26).

Now Lot is a truly awful father, first offering his virgin daughters to a mob of rapists (Gen 19:8), then impregnating both while drunk (Gen 19:30-36). Given Senator Conroy's statement above that “only RC content” would be banned, is the Holy Bible now going to be Refused Classification (or only certain pages)?

Banning this content on incest and rape grounds would be absurd if it were only hypothetical, but this absurdity is actually what the ACMA have done.

Abby Winters contains material similar to Playboy magazine, and no images of children. This gives us warning that the standard to be enforced on the net is going to be tougher than for newstand material, and therefore out of touch with current community standards.

Blacklist leak: ACMA not cut out to play cyber-cop
by Bernard Keane
“As if made to order, the leaking of ACMA's blacklist perfectly demonstrated the faulty logic behind the Government's net filtering proposal. Even assuming a government that can resist the temptation to further extend the already wide-ranging limitations on free speech online in Australia, there will always be someone who ends up on a blacklist by mistake or others' malice and will have no idea that their site -- which may be crucial to their business, or serve perfectly legitimate community goals -- is suddenly unreachable.”
Crikey

iiNet quits Conroy's filter trial
Comment:
Another issue (sorry, a bit off topic) is what the ACCC thinks of the ACMA's processes for managing the list. If a commercial website can be hacked and have some obscene photos put on it resulting it it being blacklisted with no notice or appeal, then your's competitors have a very effective tool for putting you out of business.
Brian
zdnet

Censorship creep

iiNet quits Conroy's filter trial
It became increasingly clear that the trial was not simply about restricting child pornography or other such illegal material, but a much wider range of issues including what the government simply describes as 'unwanted material' without an explanation of what that includes
Michael Malone, iiNet's MD, said in a statement.
zdnet

It is the nature of censorship that it creeps ever outward to try and suppress an ever-growing range of material, and in doing so it becomes more capricious and open to absurd error. The apparent attempt to block WikiLeaks shows how quickly censorship can be co-opted for political face-saving.

While initially promoted as a way to protect children from child pornography, the censorship policy has been extended to include a much broader range of material, including sites depicting drug use, crime, sex, cruelty, violence or "revolting and abhorrent phenomena" that "offend against the standards of morality".[The Age]
wikipedia

Whos' Morality?” becomes a critical question.

During the 60's the Victorian Chief Secretary banned a book called “Fun In Bed”. This harmless volume turned out to be an activity book for sick children. We also saw films like Easy Rider chopped to nonsense, the banning of The Naked Bunyip, a warts 'n all documentary on then current youth sexual attitudes in Australia, the Yoko Ono “walking bums” film, and a short called “Boobs-a-Lot”, a frame-by-frame collage entirely of legal cheezecake obtained from a local newsagent - legal to look, but apparently only if it's for more than 1/25th of a second.

Today, all of the above would pass on TV without comment.

A major elephant in the room that nobody is talking about is copyright and DRM enforcement. The policing of music and movie downloads for copyright reasons is certain to become a major issue as an “illegal activity”, much as it has in Europe.

What's this got to do with AVA?

Well, a couple of things.

A while back I discovered that the Playmaster page (alone) had been rated by some threat-rating service as “safe”.

Huh? Wa...?

Ohhhh, now I get it, “Play” “Master” (nudge nudge wink wink say no more) - I suppose it could possibly be a sex aid or something. The clean rating is nice, but it gives some clue as to how wide the net may be cast. Had I happened to express my real feelings about the PM125 on that page I may not have been so lucky.

It also turns out that (what I consider to be) my innocent hobby of photography may get me into trouble in a way I didn't expect.

I have a professional interest in industrial infrastructure and so I take record, stock, and artistic pix of things like pole transformers, switchyards, rail signals and the like. It seems that terrorists only use 35mm film cameras (like me) and haven't heard that most cellphones actually are cameras too.

But I also photograph interesting graffiti (ya know, like Banksy and City Lights), and it's this image that has been on the site for years that could get me into trouble and the site blocked ...

Elvis?

Wot, Elvis?

No. It's graffiti, a stencil actually, and as such it's “prohibited content” - and I had galleries full of my graffiti and street art shots up a while back.

Australian Government Will Block RC Content Under Mandatory ISP Filtering
Comment
Graffiti documentary “70K” is RC[Refused Classification], so does that mean graffiti sites will be banned?
Matthew
somebodythinkofthechildren

If that idea is too absurd, then consider the irony of conservative Catholic Senator Conroy being responsible for the blocking of an anti-abortion site.

Pro-Life Website Banned on Australian Government's Internet Blacklist
By Kathleen Gilbert
“Pro-life advocates, while supporting bans on pornography, are concerned that corrupt beaurocrats may use such lists may to target legitimate websites.

To express concerns contact the communications Minister in the Australian government:
minister@dbcde.gov.au”
lifesitenews

Here is another class of objectionable material that most people would not recognise as such, computer games that have been “Refused Classification”. Yet simply linking to a site containing any of these could get you a $11,000 per day fine.

There is no way to know if you are linking to a banned site.

Australian Government Will Block RC Content Under Mandatory ISP Filtering
Comment
RC[Refused Classification] is also any computer game that fails to attain an MA15+ rating. There are a lot of them, including the uncensored version of Grand Theft Auto III, Fallout 3 before they changed the name of one of the drugs and FEAR 2 - these aren?t minor titles.
Pharaoh
somebodythinkofthechildren

Secret Blacklists

A key element to this filtering proposal is the secret blacklist of blocked URL's.

Now just suppose for a moment that AVA does get blacklisted because of Elvis (as the Queensland Dentist did for having their site hacked and stacked with pornography; or the Astrologer who didn't foresee some detractor hacking his site with a disgusting but legal scatalogical image).

As the person reponsible for the site content, how am I supposed to know that I have been blocked (c/f a breakdown or fault), what my offence is, and how I could go about correcting that offence.

There is no way to know if you are blacklisted, nor any way of appealing or challenging your inclusion.

To my mind this is the most serious defect with the proposed system because it denies basic justice, to know what you are charged with, to face your accusers, and to defend yourself. This is nothing less than a Star Chamber where you suddenly find yourself cut off at the knees.

As it happens AVA has already suffered a similar experience to the unfortunate Queensland dentist.

One of the server moves was forced on Elands.Com because someone had managed to insert some sort of pathogenic IRC-bot into the domain. The source of this wasn't determined, but when the ISP simply deleted the entire Elands.Com domain I was suddenly presented with a very major problem (and LucidTone in NZ came to the rescue with mirror space).

There is a basic Monkey Grip problem here. While the blacklist remains secret there can be no meaningful right of appeal against improper listing. Yet the blacklist, by design, has to be a directory to Conroy's “worst of the worst” on the web.

Doubts Expressed Over ACMA Blacklist Leak
“This was bound to happen, especially as mandatory filtering would require the list to be distributed to ISPs all around the country,” said Electronic Frontiers Australia vice-chairman Colin Jacobs.
“The Government is now in the unenviable business of compiling and distributing a list which includes salacious and illegal material and publicising those very sites to the world.”
CRN

Censorship creep can take some strange forms on the Internet. Take the question of hyperlinks - the heart and soul of the Web. You can be punished for linking to a forbidden site, but there is no way to find out if a site is banned.

Censorship will be hiding behind a “server not found” error, and they dare not put up a standard “access blocked by ACMA” screen either because a bit of smart probing would soon produce a list of blocked sites.

(16/1/10) There is now a suggestion that requests to banned sites will be diverted to an ACMA “this site banned” page, and already some have outlined a variation of the modem “dial-hammer” attack to identify and list banned URL's. But this may not be needed. It is a simple matter to use a search engine to locate unsecured webcams, and just as certainly search engine webcrawlers will find banned pages. What they then do with that information will make a huge difference to ISP filtering.

1249837732245kevin84.jpg

It Will Be Abused
Anonymous -- 19/03/09 (in reply to #320126148)
Remember, this is the same guy, who says it's illegal to post a link to a site that is on the list, whose contents you're not allowed to know.
zdnet

So suddenly my Elvis pix incidentally takes down WES Components and sundry other electronics, valve, or music related websites, forums and blogs that link to AVA. Tough luck about Hack-A-Day.

Then there are the gambling sites.

Australian Government attempts to ban online poker sites
by Greg Raymer
Included in the list of “unacceptable” websites, are such poker giants as Poker Stars, and Full Tilt, as well as any site that has links or hyperlinks to such sites (including news outlets). This potential censorship has many Aussies worried about anti-democratic actions and abuses of power. examiner
my emph.

Now I'm no great fan of gambling, but this is a very long way removed from the starting point of blocking child porn.

Backdraft

Then there are the “seven degrees of separation” the other way. I have over a thousand links on the site. How deeply must I follow each one to be sure I won't be blocked because I'm unwittingly linking to banned material (like my Elvis)?

I already check all the site links for activity several times a year using Xenu Link Checker and it takes about an hour. I could use Wget to go as deeply into the external link tree as I wished, but I would then have to spend my whole life reviewing literally thousands of pages for banned content. But what's banned? How can I find out what I shouldn't link to?

iiNet quits Conroy's filter trial
Comment:
Another issue (sorry, a bit off topic) is what the ACCC thinks of the ACMA's processes for managing the list. If a commercial website can be hacked and have some obscene photos put on it resulting it it being blacklisted with no notice or appeal, then your's competitors have a very effective tool for putting you out of business.
Brian
zdnet

Technical problems

Who decides what material is “appropriate” for Australians to see?
How are lists of “illegal” material compiled?
Who will maintain the blacklist of prohibited sites?
How can sites mistakenly added to the list be removed?

The ACMA would be overwhelmed with the task of maintaining a blacklist. Millions of web sites, with the list changing on a daily basis, would need to be monitored by Australian bureaucrats - an impossible task.
nocleanfeed

Statements by the leading proponents of ISP filtering such as the Australian Family Association and ChildWise display a simply breathtaking ignorance about the Web generally.

Speaking of “streaming audiovisual and chat room services” an AFA position paper says;

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.

The utter ignorance of the Web implicit in this paragraph alone leaves me gobsmacked. It is simply drivel. I have been wondering for months what the hell “limited number range” actually means in the context of the Web; the IP address, an .xxx domain, the number of members, posts? What on earth do they think they are talking about? Do they want Flickr and ImageShack to slow down to hayseed speed so the AFA can keep up with censoring its content? Perhaps they would like the Internet to just go away.

And “in parallel”? The idea that IM, e-mail, VoIP, Webcams, MyBook, SpaceFace, 4Chan, or the multitudes of different adult sites work anything like a phone sex line is so utterly berzerk it defies description. It also ignores the fact that many sites are free, supported by advertising with no credit card required, and fudges the question of who will actually verify the age of applicants for their proposed PIN. Ignorant, stupid, or insane.

Just for perspective, YouTube gets four hours of video uploaded every minute, while 4Chan claims four image post per second. Then there are all the others.

Somebody has to call this what it is in plain language, and I'm calling it ignorant drivel.

Is filtering effective?

iiNet quits Conroy's filter trial
Suzanne Tindal, ZDNet.com.au
iiNet's managing director Michael Malone said that although everyone was against child pornography, the filtering trial would not help keep it away from Australian internet users.

“In reality, the vast majority of online child pornography activity does not appear on public websites but is distributed over peer-to-peer networks which are not and cannot be captured by this trial or policy.”

He wanted the government to rethink its approach ...
zdnet

I also have to observe that there are things in the world such as PGP.

Pretty Good Privacy is an encryption tool that, unlike Zipfile passwords, provides military-grade encryption. Is this going to lead to a similarly stupid situation where the American administration tried to mandate the DSA and outlaw PGP and anything else they couldn't easily decode?

You don't have to be much of a programmer to think of ways of smuggling data. The idea of using the low four bits of a 24-bit encoded picture to carry hidden data is far from new or original.

Net Censorship or Why Stephen Conroy Is An Idiot
Labour MP Stephen Conroy is nothing more than a Orwellian censor who is making a mess of something he clearly does not understand.

Oh and don't mistake filtering for doing something about the deplorable acts like child sex exploitation. This will not save one innocent child or do any other good. It's like closing your eyes and sticking your fingers in your ears and pretending it isn't happening.
mulligrubs

ISP-filtering is as useless as a bucket made of chicken wire.

Last Word

Blacklist leak: ACMA not cut out to play cyber-cop
by Bernard Keane
Anyone who thinks ACMA will turn into the Elliott Ness of cyberspace, busting down the doors of geeks circulating the URLs of illegal tuckshop websites, doesn?t know the regulator. The only risk to perpetrators is that of dying of old age while waiting for ACMA to finalise its investigation.
crikey

Re: SAGE-AU opposition to the proposed Internet filtering initiative
As the representative organisation for Australian system administrators, SAGE-AU is writing to state that it is unable to support the Federal Government's proposed Internet filtering initiative and to outline the significant concerns that inform SAGE-AU's position on this issue.

The System Administrators Guild of Australia (SAGE-AU) represents professional system administrators across Australia. System administrators are the technical people behind commercial networks and computing systems, large and small. Accordingly, we believe SAGE-AU is in an excellent position to contribute to the discussion of the technical issues with your Department?s proposed network filter. Our Code of Ethics (1) requires that we communicate with users regarding computing issues likely to affect them; and thus we feel it essential that we explain these issues to you. The proposed Internet filter cannot achieve its stated goal.
Open letter from SAGE-AU to Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Stephen Conroy (2008-Dec-18) [SAGE-AU]

Don't even try to argue with Conroy about his Clean Feed. When it comes to debate on internet safety, he appears every bit as flexible as an evangelical toothpick.
Helen Razer
The Age

Just keep those cards and letters rolling in folks ... minister@dbcde.gov.au

I just wish they would turn their attention to spam and scams.


Epilogue

The sky isn't falling

Like all censorship, Internet censorship is supposed to protect. In this case it's our children we are supposed to be protecting from graphic and confronting sexual images.

But the situation is still as it has been for the past decade or so yet there is a lack of even anacdotal evidence that the availabilty of the hardest core porn imaginable on the net has had a big impact on children or teens.

The various statistics that are available, such as teen pregnancy rates, the age for loss of virginity in girls, and STD infection rates have been effectively static over the past decade.

There are suggestions that girls these days are using oral sex more often to avoid actual intercourse, but if true could more easily be attributed to the Clinton-Lewinski affair where oral sex was redefined as “not really having sex”, and to articles in magazines aimed at young women promoting the advantages of oral sex on the first date, than the Internet.

The most obvious possible effect is schoolgirls lining up in the local parlour for a special back-to-school deal on pubic hair removal - the “Brazilian”. Am I the only one who sees a massive disjoint here between community image and actual behaviour?

Protection

Then there is the issue of protecting children (i.e. under-18's) from being exploited by the porn industry.
Nobody should be exploited for anything.

But it's a thin argument that downloading an image for free is supporting child abuse, and complicit and partly responsible for any exploitation in making the image.

In stark contrast we have the RIAA making exactly the opposite argument, screaming blue murder that the “crime” of “stealing” free downloads of their material is killing them. Another disjoint.

The economic reality is that every free download without return disadvantages the distributor. Paradoxically, one way to get something removed from the Internet is to have everybody download it, making it too expensive or impractical (DoS) to go on serving it.

If you want something removed from the Web, massively download it.


Not long ago I read an article calling for more public attention to be given to domestic violence. Other issues such as rape and date rape have been brought to attention in the past, and cyber-bullying is getting growing attention.

Nothing will turn you off child porn quicker than actually seeing some of Conroy's “worst of the worst”, which you won't find on the ACMA Blacklist.

I accepted Senator Conroy's invitation on TV to “see for yourself”. Since then I have reviewed many hundreds of sites and many thousand images, and porn in bulk isn't sexy; an endless progression of individuals in a limited number of poses. A lot of variant activities that were confronting or disgusting, possibly illegal, and certainly uncomfortable. But only a tiny amount of what could honestly be called “child porn”, however once found, was extreme, featuring chidren clearly unable to give informed consent.

Of the several hundred blacklisted and related sites reviewed, only three or four could be said to contain the “worst of the worst” child sexual abuse, a fraction of one percent. None of these was on the ACMA blacklist.

But the inclusion of sites such as Abby Winters in the blacklist gives lie to Conroy's “worst of the worst” argument. I've seen their adverts around Melbourne explicitly seeking nude photograpic models, and the models are required to show proof that they are eighteen or older, they are granted a great deal of control over the shoot and poses, then they are well paid.

This is typical of the Abby Winters models I found ...

Exploited?
Exploited? Or having fun?

I find it very curious that Abby Winters in partcular has been Blacklisted because it only uses Australian models, not just-18's but mainly in their 20's, photographed literally warts and all in their own homes, and is one of the least sleazy porn sites on the entire net - a try-on perhaps to see how far closed the limits of censorship can be pushed. There are a lot of truly vile sites on the web, but Abby Winters isn't one of them, and is no more explicit than “rated” material available on the local newsstands.

The bulk of adult sites claim to comply with American records keeping laws that all models are 18+ at the time of the photography, and some photosets include the model holding up a licence or document as proof of age.

In Australia the situation is more rubbery and the matter is how old the participants appear to be, thus we have seen a court rule that a parody of the Simpsons showing Bart and Lisa engaged in a sex act comes within the definition of child pornography in the Act.

Lisa is perpetually seven, but she was “born” twenty-one years before this absurd ruling. A cartoon character is a “person” who can be exploited and sexually abused?

This has really groundbreaking implications. It extends Human Rights to a character in an artwork, by impliction to all characters in all artworks. Suddenly “they killed Kenny” isn't so funny any more. Time to call the real cops. Are my old Donald Duck vids both child and animal abuse, with Donald and Daisy both buck-naked from the waist down? Popeye and Olive Oil for domestic violence, Daffy Duck for serial suicide bombing attempts? The Roadrunner for crimes against physics?

How does this nonsense in any way help the real child victims?

Compared to what?

While I have been writing this there have been several murders on TV, one a graphic re-inactment of a gang rape and murder.

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