Saturday, 19 December 2009

Porn at 9pm?

What is wrong with Christians?

Do they really think that commercial stations are going to show porn on their channels?

The group in question is called Family Voice Australia.

And they clearly do not know what porn is.

No free to air channel in Australia, and this is including SBS, who are known for showing films with more sexual content then the others, will ever show porn at 9pm. Not now, and not in the near future.

I have to wonder if these groups think of themselves as the "only moral people in the country/world/universe"? Or perhaps they have too much grease lying around and have decided to use it to make more slippery slopes? Either way their argument is really, really, really dumb.

I think that Sue Turnbull of La Trobe University sums it up the best:
"If this particular group don't know what real pornography looks like, then maybe they should see some, so that they can actually make the kinds of distinctions that the people that are doing this classification make every day," she said.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Sumarians Were Indeed Confused

As the number 5 story of The Onion's "Top 10 stories of the last 4.5 billion years.

It must have been terribly confusing to hear God speak everything into existence when it was already there.

But while you laugh, remember that there are people out there who believe that God did create the universe at that time. And then laugh even more.

More on the Australian Internet Filter

This is some more information that I've managed to find, continuing on from yesterday's post. The move is becoming controversial and it looks like news bodies outside of Australia are starting to take notice. Google News already has a list of articles, some of which are from Australia and some are foreign which talk about this.

Google joins the anti-filter side

The Official Google Australia Blog has a post on their views of the filter.

Google has joined the list of groups that don't like the filter. Remember that groups that oppose the filter aren't just groups like the EFA but also groups like Save the Children. As well as essentially all the ISPs in the country.

They link to an interesting report from professors Catharine Lumby, Leila Green and John Hartley titled Untangling the Net: The Scope of Content Caught by Mandatory Internet Filtering, but more on that later.

They do make a good point in one case though, their SafeSearch allows the search engine to filter out unsavoury content. It must work quite well because Cracked have an article that uses the filter (for porn, so I guess that even though it's censored it will be blocked if the filter goes through.

There is one thing that they add though, Germany has a filter but it only filters child porn. Not potentially most of the internet.

Part of the issue, as I said yesterday, is that it's not just the Government's job to protect people on the Internet, it's also the role of parents to be vigilant and to teach their kids about internet safety. It appears that many, if not most Australians understand this, but some groups don't.

They also add that controversial topics should not be censored because it stifles discussion. This is correct. But most people will agree that it's quite fine to censor child porn because it's one issue that is believed to be wrong by most people regardless of their views on other things.

However stifling discussion is not a valid proposal.

The Filter and Euthanasia

This article was on the ABC today. Apparently the filter will restrict information about euthanasia.

Now it is clear that euthanasia is a touchy issue in society. However this is one of the issues that should not be censored.

Dr. Phillip Nitschke, a prominent voluntary euthanasia advocate has some of his websites listed on the ACMA blacklist.

Michael Duffy reported on the adding of Nitschke's work to the blacklist back in May. And if you search for the website for the online version of his book The Peaceful Pill Handbook on the Wikileaks copy of the blacklist you will find it there (just search for "") right below partypoker.

But this is not the only issue where we see information being censored.

The Report

We now turn back to the report that I mentioned earlier (link to article here).

The key findings are listed on page ii.

Overall the conclusion is that there shouldn't be a filter. Especially based on Australian law and the scope of the blacklists. It also states that it may lull people into a false sense of security.

One of the interesting things that they found was that only 32% of the blacklisted stuff was child pornography. Some of this content that has been prohibited falls under R18+ and X18+ classifications from the Office of Film and Literature Classification and are technically permitted as long as they are not sold to people under 18.
Yet it states that at present there is a strange contradiction in that under voluntary filtering X18+ is prohibited (so for internet purposes it's Refused Classification).

Strange huh? You can buy porn from stores in the ACT, or over the phone, but you're not allowed to do it over the internet.

But it lists various other hypothetical websites that could be considered RC based on their content including a website for LGBT people to discuss their sexuality, or a literary website. Which just goes to show that the classification system has the potential to paint most of the internet as RC, and therefore fair game for any filter.

Other potential issues include transparency, the article suggests some form of judicial review on blacklisted sites. But also whether we should be allowed to know what is on the blacklist. And also a section on balancing the filter, what happens if we over or under filter.

At present though we have to wait until Labor draft some legislation to see how some of these issues are sorted out.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Wanted, Reliable Proxies. Apply in Australia.

The government has given the go ahead for an internet filter. This has been an issue since the previous government but the measures were not so drastic. At present we are looking at the possibility of adults being prevented from looking at legal websites as they are advertently and inadvertently blocked, or a massive throttling of broadband speeds from either active or passive filtering. Something that goes against the Federal Government's attempt to provide Australians with faster internet. It also may see websites blocked by groups who wish to censor content for certain arguments, violating ideals that Australians believe in.

Electronic Frontiers Australia has a site on the feed.

The October Report: What may be censored

Part of it has to do with the content that is filtered.

The recent October report from the government about the filter states that Enex (which I believe is the company that did the test) used the ACMA (the Australian Communication and Media Authority) blacklist.

Wikileaks managed to obtain a copy of the blacklist, I'm using the most recent one that I could find, dated 18 March 2009.

Now some of the sites listed I can understand. They are sites that clearly violate laws in this country with content such as child porn. That's fair, and I think many people would agree with that.

But other websites are on there as well. Wikileaks itself is on the list, after ACMA added their page on Denmak's Internet Black List. As are three youtube links, a page from the Zombie Survival Wiki on tips and tricks, and three pages from Encyclopedia Dramatica (Offended, Kittens and something called "snapesnogger". I don't read ED, so I don't know) and a couple of pages from Wikipedia. There may be some legitimate, legal porn sites on there too, but I'm afraid to check because some of the URLs don't really make themselves clear.

The report continues to tell us on page 15:
Inappropriate for children test list
Content on the inappropriate for children test list included:
  • Gambling
  • Adult
  • Lingerie/Swimsuit
  • Drug-advocacy
  • Nudism
  • Gross-content
  • Profanity
  • Racism/Hate
  • Sex
  • Terrorism/Crime
This is the content inappropriate for children. Will homes without children be able to opt out of this? As far as I'm aware nobody will be able to opt out completely, but we would be able to opt out of this stuff.

I guess this will bring about a censorship of the news though. Many news sites have been using some of the things in that list to get more people to click on links.

Connection Throttling And the Filters: The ACMA Report

Will the filter (or filters) chosen throttle connections. This is also based on how well they block since this variable will weigh more heavily on the Government's choice of filter then speed. Looking at this report from ACMA gives us individual results in Appendix F and grouped results on other pages.

The report itself gives graphs showing that over between 2005 - 2008 the abilities of ISP filters has improved. Except in performance, where we see on page 5 that in the three years between tests that the range has increased dramatically.

Moving on to Appendix F, which is a breakdown of the filters. We can see that some of the filters were pretty good in a passive mode, but in an active mode filters like Alpha and Gamma would throttle a connection. Theta was a major exception, throttling when it was passively filtering.

We don't know how much any of these filters cost, but it would be terrible if either of these were the cheapest. (Personally I think that the Delta filter is the best to choose in terms of active filtering.) Knowing the Australian Government they are going to choose the cheapest because if there is one problem that Governments in Australia have it's that they think in the short term, not the long term.

If we find that Alpha or Gamma are chosen then the Government will have a lot of pressure when it comes to who is next on the list for the National Broadband Network (incidentally, Tasmania was first and they are already in stage 2. It also makes it completely pointless. Part of the idea was to make Australia more attractive to businesses. Being told that they might have to use internet with a filter that would throttle speeds by 80% is not attractive at all.

At present the issue would be moot in a place like Tasmania, which will have had the broadband upgrades completely finished by July next year, but would affect the other states that have not, which for some people would be "welcome to broadband, just as fast as dial-up."

Ramifications of Blacklists and Censorship

Websites will need to be identified before they are blocked. A complaint will need to be lodged with ACMA and they will do something and the website may be put on the list. (As I understand it's Phase 1. Collect Websites. Phase 2. ? Phase 3. Blacklist). It was found on the Wikileaks blacklist that a website of a dentist was on the blacklist.

As noted in the Sydney Morning Herald article just linked, being blacklisted gives the impression that your website hosts content that is very unsavoury. If the filter was in effect and a page appeared to notify you that the page you are viewing is blacklisted then what will you think?

Without proper oversight, which also includes ACMA actually checking the websites to make sure that they complaint is valid, the ACMA blacklist may end up being like the Hollywood Blacklist of 1950's America, you're on the list you're guilty, even if you aren't. Will there be methods available to stop the abuse of such a blacklist?

This raises issues regarding how extensive the blacklist will be. Will all pages of a website be blocked? Or will each individual sub-page be blocked depending on the content?

If it is the former then there are further ramifications that may actually infringe on the few constitutional rights that we have as well as other legal avenues that may arise through being thought of as guilty by association.

As there are a couple of Wikipedia pages on the ACMA blacklist, will that affect access to Wikipedia in general?

Do People Want A Filter?

In most cases it appears to be a no. According to the Sydney Morning Herald back in February 26 stated that a Galaxy poll conducted around that time found that only 5% of people (of 1100) wanted the ISP to filter, and 4% wanted the Government to do it.

In another poll of 10 000 Netspace customers 61% of people opposed such a move.

It isn't just opinion polls of random Australians that show this. The ABC reported back in July that the organisation Save the Children have stated that the filter won't protect children and it won't stop child porn from being leaked around the internet.

And today we see that The Greens have also opposed such a move, joining numerous other groups, like the EFA (linked to at the start of this post), GetUp!, the Australian Sex Party (who state the filter 95% of all porn sites which, in terms of the popular view of the internet is most of it.) and other groups who consider it to be a waste.

Groups that will support such a measure are primarily religious. And this is an important point to be made.

Potential Legislation and the Senate

According to Opposition Senator Nick Minchin (Liberal Party) legislation will be required for Australia to undertake such a task. I assume that has more to do with punishments for circumventing the filter and issues regarding defamation from being added to the blacklist for no good reason rather the censorship.

The reason I say that is because in terms of free speech Australia is a country where it is enshrined as an ideal, not a political reality. We have no right to free speech, the closest we have is that you aren't allowed to censor political communication.

This aside if legislation is required then the odds are that it will easily pass the Lower House based on numbers and the party line being enforced. The real fight will be in the Senate. The passing or defeat of this bill relies on a majority in the Senate, and it looks like Labor will need to woo many people into joining them.

In October of 2008 it was reported that Steve Fielding would support the filter if it would block all porn, and Nick Xenophon would try to use the bill to block foreign gambling sites (following his platform of "no pokies").

At present however only one of these two key members of the Senate support the filter. That member is Steve Fielding, the Family First Party.

For those that don't know, Family First are essentially the religious party in Australian Politics and they hold one of the two important positions in the Senate.

Nick Xenophon is the sole independent senator in the Senate, and a senator from my home state of South Australia. In a Q&A with ARN in November of this year, Xenophon has stated that he does not support the mandatory filtering of the internet.

Essentially at present the Senate would be hostile to filtering legislation. With the Coalition, the Greens and Xenophon voting no, and all along party lines, then the Senate would be hostile to any filtering legislation. It is quite possible that it will fail in the Senate.

I would question whether Tony Abbott, the Liberal leader and devout Christian, would pressure the Senate Liberals into voting for the bill, but I suspect that even he sees that it would cause him to lose leadership as it would probably fragment the party even more.

This issue will not go away however, but if the mandatory filtering does manage to pass through Parliament, or is implemented in another way, it will most likely become an election issue at the next election.

We may see either a change of government or a radical change in the political makeup of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.


What should be concluded from this? Well firstly it's that we do need proper protections of our rights. It is not good enough to see them as ideals that are culturally engrained, because it allows for abuses of power. This is part of the issue here. Will we see the abuse of power from minorities who don't want people to have access to certain information because they don't agree with it?

Will we see proper oversight of the ACMA blacklist, and if other, foreign, blacklists are used (like say the UK's Internet Watch Foundation blacklist) what chances of recourse will we have if they blacklist a site?

And do we need filtered internet? In terms of protecting children it seems that most Australians feel that it should be the job of parents and not the government. Groups like Save the Children prefer proper education rather then stopping everyone from visiting certain sites. If these groups see that filtering is not the right way to go then the claim that "it's to protect the children" is more likely to be a smokescreen.

Like issues regarding the media part of the onus is on the viewer. If you don't like what it is that you are watching/listening to/reading then you should stop. Change the channel or radio station, turn the page or close the tab. Don't try to force your morality on other people, which appears to be part of the reason for this filter in the first place. Just because you don't like websites that feature legal porn does not mean that you can tell me that I can't look at that legal porn.

At present this issue is not even at a stage where you could make a bill. There are too many holes, not enough oversight and quite possibly secret blacklists. The fight may be far from over, but it's not one we can afford to lose.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Dick Dastardly is a scapegoat

I thought of something random at work today.

If anyone has ever seen the cartoon Wacky Races then they would know that Dick Dastardly is always being called a cheater.

My though was that they always called him a cheater, but the others would cheat as well. I suspect that it's because he stops to cheat.

Think about it, all the other cars had devices that essentially allow them to cheat. Take a look at the Gruesome Twosome for example. They have a ghost that they use to scare the other racers, now how the hell is that not cheating? Or Professor Pat Pending, his "car" can turn into anything. "Oh dear the road has just suddenly turned into a lake. I'll just turn my car into a jetpack." Because we all know that it's still a car race when you're using a jetpack.

Essentially the entire race was a bunch of cheaters cheating their way to victory. (A notable exception would have to be Peter Perfect, whose car was just that, a car. And it usually fell to bits because of it.)

But Dick was always the "cheater". But maybe there was another, more sinister reason for it.

In order to cheat as much as he does he would need money. Since he never wins any races he would probably run out very quickly.

I think therefore that he would have been paid by the Wacky Races people (if such an organisation existed) to cheat to make the races more interesting. There is no other reason for it. If he is able to get a massive lead every race (and several times too) to set his traps then it stands to reason that he could, you know, just race normally and win.

By scapegoating him it also allows the people to claim that the others don't cheat, because you have to stop and do something in order to cheat "properly".

So that's pretty much it, Dick Dastardly is a scapegoat, but he's also part of a massive conspiracy that involves him being a scapegoat.