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Same shit, different government: Labor announces mandatory Internet filtering
ABC News article: Conroy announces mandatory internet filters to protect children

In a bid to follow in the footsteps of Helen Coonan rather than try anything new, Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy says Labor will legislate mandatory content filtering at the ISP level. (ISPs are already required to offer user-level filters to customers.) Note that it's opt-out, not opt-in.

Though I believe it would be a bad idea, I could understand a government requiring that ISPs offer network-level filtering to concerned parents.

Requiring that content be filtered by default and that people must opt out if they don't want filtering is outrageous. I guess it makes sense though - maybe they realise that people don't want such filtering, and they don't want to look stupid when the adoption rate is shown to be minimal.

What bugs me most about this is the way Conroy is mixing issues. He says: "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree."

Referring to child pornography is a misleading and irresponsible use of emotive argument. Practically everyone is against child pornography and since it's illegal, the best way to deal with it is through prosecution, not filters.

The filters he's proposing are not for child pornography, but for pornography and violence generally. Mentioning child pornography sounds like a Howard-era tactic: reasonable concerns about broad-reaching changes can be dismissed by saying "you don't care about the children".

Talking about the speed of the Internet also seems like a red herring to me. I guess some people would be concerned about that. But surely the big issue here is the potential harm that could arise once a large proportion of the population are having their Internet access filtered by default.

The only good news in that article is the promise to engage "the sector" before they force it on the unsuspecting masses. It would be nice if they also engaged parents, children and educators.

One last question before I finish this rant: why are there no other initiatives being announced to protect children online? Filtering is a partial (and possibly ineffective) solution to a broader problem.

Who's going to help educate children about what to expect online and how to deal with bullies, stalkers, legalities, etc.? Who's going to help the parents educate their children? Where are the resources to actively protect children onlnine, beyond the implementation of a set-and-forget filtering regime?

Okay, that last question had sub-questions. I'll stop now.

Thanks to hasimir for pointing out the article. This post is adapted from my response to his post.

EDIT: I've bookmarked a range of articles and posts about this: http://del.icio.us/nathanj/conroy-filter (The earliest bookmarks are the most useful.)

Over a dozen negative reactions before I found someone who supports the plan. And she fails to address either of these two major problems:

1. Risk of abuse and related civil liberties problems.

2. Lack of focus on educating and helping children.

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Here's my message left on Stephen Conroy's "Message to Stephen" page, hopefully worded such as to stand-out from all the negative feedback that is no doubt coming through:
This is not a complaint about the mandatory filtering plan - you have enough already, no doubt. Two related questions:

1. What other initiatives are planned to help parents and children protect themselves online? (ie. education and resources.)

2. You say you are "engaged constructively with the sector". Will this consultation be extended to include parents, children and educators?

Thank you.

What a pointless exercise. The way they've worded things, you'd almost think that pornography was lurking around every corner, waiting to spring on the unsuspecting surfer. That's pretty damned rare unless you're doing some rather dodgy stuff (The kind of stuff I wouldn't imagine a child should be doing/interested in anyway), so what do they hope to prove here?

Are they trying to stop predatory porn reaching a child or a child from actively seeking porn? If the latter, they're gonna hit the exact same problem the DRM people face; once it's out of your control it's out of your control forever. Just like a movie has no problems being distributed once the DRM is removed initially, a child that uses an off-shore proxy server (I'm obviously talking about puberty-age kids here, they're smart little buggers) will see no effect from even ISP-level filtering. Also doesn't stop the most common way of kids sharing porn, the good old sneakernet.

You've also got to wonder what kind of filtering they're planning on imposing. Blacklists will cut out some of the porn, but god knows there's millions of new porn sites (Or aliases) up every day, and URL-based blacklists are easily circumvented. Packet-level inspection is in no way feasible as well, so there goes analysing the data.

This is a complete misstep, and as you mentioned it's missing the point entirely. Kids will find porn. It may be upsetting for some but it's not going to stop any time soon, not with the technology we have at current. And even then, we should be thinking ABOUT the children, not FOR them, for christ sakes. Porn is not going to destroy your child, hell most kids seem to think the opposite sex is icky. Discussion and moderation beats pretending something doesn't exist any day.

Are they trying to stop predatory porn reaching a child or a child from actively seeking porn?

That's the big, unanswered question. I believe it's unanswered because they don't understand the differences, or they think these two very different issues can be handled in the same way.

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