[edited 24/25/27 Oct 2008 to update Further Reading list and keep the links roundup up to date.]
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has been trying to extract information on the new internet filtering plans in Senate Estimates committee.
Here’s the transcript, via the Greens website.
* Internet filtering funding has been allocated $44.2 million over four years.
* Real life trials have still not commenced. Labor are “consulting” with “a wide range of ISPs”, the Internet Industry Association and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association. They have contracted with a testing group called NX Test Laboratories to design a live pilot.
* Conroy confirmed that they are looking at two tiers, one mandatory, and one opt-out.
* Conroy thinks that the commentary by people concerned about internet censorship is “hysterical” (darnit, is my womb out of control yet again?)
Senator Conroy- Notwithstanding some of the commentary that borders on hysterical at times that you have possibly seen, we are just slowly and methodically working our way through and gathering information through this trial.
Senator LUDLAM-Some of the comments that I have seen did not approach hysterical at all. I think there have been some quite well thought through concerns.
– Senator Ludlam pushed on overblocking and underblocking benchmarks, and was shut down. The government hasn’t even begun to think about such things, apparently, and refuses to consider it at this stage:
Senator LUDLAM – What are the odds that the filtering software in that case is going to start knocking out content inadvertently and start returning fairly serious false positives?
Senator Conroy-Underblocking and overblocking are obviously issues. That is why we are engaged in conversation with the sector about it-to specifically try to minimise this sort of impact.
Senator LUDLAM-So what are your benchmarks or what is acceptable?
Senator Conroy-We are just at the very early stages. You are actually jumping ahead. I can understand that if you have been reading some of the wild and-
Senator LUDLAM-Some of it is not so wild, Minister.
Senator Conroy-enthusiastic commentary that I keep seeing both in blogs and in the media. But we are actually only in the early stages and we have committed to consult with the sector to work through these very issues. We have not set some of those benchmarks. What we are seeing is what is the impact, but we have not said, ‘Right, three per cent is acceptable and seven per cent is not acceptable.’ We actually have not done that.
Three percent? Seven percent? Now there’s a slip that reveals what he’s thinking. Not 0.01 percent or 0.001 percent, Senator Conroy? Three to seven percent is what immediately springs to mind? This is going to be a colossal disaster.
– Senator Conroy does not know whether euthanasia information and pro-anorexia information will fall under the mandatory filter.
Conroy’s responses on the matter are contradictory:
Senator Conroy-As I said, we are enforcing current law and ACMA determine this based on the existing law. […] We do not believe that you should be able to opt in to child porn. I am sure you do not either.
Senator LUDLAM-What about, for another controversial example, euthanasia related material?
Senator Conroy-You would have to ask them whether that falls within their definition. There are calls for, as an example, banning pro anorexia websites. Again, it falls into that sort of category. So there are calls for a whole range of material to be included in the black list, but I do not think that they fall inside the existing definitions under the law.
Senator LUDLAM-[…] The black list, as the minister is rightly pointing out, can become very grey depending on how expansive the list becomes-euthanasia material, politically related material, material about anorexia. There is a lot of distasteful stuff on the internet.
Senator Conroy-Existing provisions under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 are able to deal with suicide related material that provides detailed instruction or promotion of matters of crime or violence. It is an existing law. […]
Existing provisions under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 are able to deal with suicide related material that provides detailed instruction or promotion of matters of crime or violence, and such material would be refused classification and regarded as prohibited content currently.
* Senator Ludlam pushed Conroy on a very basic issue, the issue of where the software would reside, and Conroy refused to answer, on the grounds that they were testing an “objective, not a particular technology”. They are looking at both software and hardware solutions. Hardware based solution seems to be some sort of “black box” technology.
Dr Pelling: Typically a hardware filtering device will be a computer-sized box, for example, which will have built into it an underlying software platform that will assess the internet stream going through it against, for example, an extensive black list or a series of categories of sites which are often developed by the service provider. They will filter the internet stream against those sites which are continually updated. When we say ‘hardware versus software’, the hardware platforms would be typically an integrated platform in a small box which would be plugged in and can be customised to a certain extent.
* Senator Conroy on international consultation and “wild claims”:
This is not a problem you can solve with one jurisdiction. The internet is international. So we have been encouraging greater cooperation between law enforcement agencies across the world so that we can try, where possible, to combine black lists. That will stop us reinventing the wheel, so to speak. So different jurisdictions have a range of different black lists. They have not been coordinated at this stage.
When you say ‘block content from leaving the ISP’, this is to work with the ISPs-and that is why we have been consulting so much with them-to minimise any impact on the actual operation of the net. That is why we are going through the trials. We are going through the laboratory trial that you heard about and we are going to go down the path of a real world trial, because we have committed to consult extensively with the sector to ensure that we do not have the impact that some wild claims make.
* An exchange worth reading:
Senator LUDLAM-Of those countries that you have named, I am not expecting that they are all identical
in form, because I understand that your proposal is not opt in or opt out. It will be mandatory content blocking across all Australian ISPs.
Senator Conroy-We are-
Senator LUDLAM-Just let me finish. In terms of the countries that you have just listed for me, it is mandatory or is it an opt-in system that, for example, concerned parents could take advantage of?
Senator Conroy-Illegal material is illegal material. Child pornography is child pornography. I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography.
Senator LUDLAM-No. That is why I was interested in asking about the law enforcement side of it as well.
Senator Conroy-No, we are working both angles at it. We are just trying to use technology to enforce the existing laws.
Senator LUDLAM-I am just wondering if I can put these questions to you without being accused of being pro child pornography. That would assist.
Senator Conroy-I was wondering if I could get the questions without being accused of being the Great Wall of China.
Senator LUDLAM-I have not-
Senator Conroy-Oh, okay. As long as you are allowed to have value in your questions I will have no value in my answers.
Scott Ludlam = my new hero. Go write a note to your local Greens, people. Get involved. Here’s the No Clean Feed link again.
References and Further Reading:
Hoyden About Town: The Great Firewall of Australia., 31 Dec 2007
Hoyden About Town: “Civil liberties advocates = paedophiles”: Internet culture wars from the ALP. 1 Jan 2008
Hoyden About Town: You – You – You – Non-cookie-cutter feminist, you! 3 Jan 2008
Hoyden About Town: Censoring the Internet: Conroy plays King Canute. 4 Jan 2008
EFA analysis of the proposal, 4 Mar 2008
Computerworld: “Great Wall of Australia: Content filtering fails parliament“. 15 May 2008
ACMA pilot test results: Closed Environment Testing of ISP-level Internet Content Filtering, June 2008
Minister’s Media Release, 28 July 2008
Hoyden About Town: No surprises: internet filtering test results show products block legitimate content. 31 July 2008
Hoyden About Town: “Mandatory Australian Internet Censorship: Conroy’s Bait and Switch“. 17 Oct 2008
Computerworld: No opt-out of filtered Internet. 13 Oct 2008
Ars Technica: ‘Net filters “required” for all Australians, no opt-out. 16 Oct 2008
Gizmodo: Australia To Build Great Firewall Down Under. 16 Oct 2008
Crikey: And the Wankley Award goes to … Conroy’s net filtering scheme. 17 Oct 2008
Mark Newton: Letter to Minister Kate Ellis with detailed objections to the filtering proposals [PDF]. 20 Oct 2008
Somebody Think of the Children: “Interview: Internode’s Mark Newton talks filtering“. 20 Oct 2008
Somebody Think of the Children: “Greens Senator quizzes Conroy on filtering“. 23 Oct 2008
The Inquisitr: “Australian censorship minister tries to censor critic: time to go Conroy“. 23 Oct 2008
New Matilda: “First They Came for the Perverts“. 23 Oct 2008
ABC News: “The high price of internet filtering“. 24 Oct 2008
The Age: “Filtering out the fury: how government tried to gag web censor critics“. 24 Oct 2008
Ponderance: “Stop Internet Censorship in Australia!“. 24 Oct 2008
Stilgherrian: “Completely inappropriate, Senator Conroy“. 24 Oct 2008
Crikey: “Cheap tricks not the right response on internet filtering“. 24 Oct 2008
Larvatus Prodeo: “Scrutiny in the Senate: water, markets and censorship“. 24 Oct 2008
Computerworld: “‘Appalled’ opposition hits back at Conroy’s Internet censorship“. 24 Oct 2008
Ars Technica: “Aussie govt: Don’t criticize our (terrible) ‘Net filters“. 24 Oct 2008
Builder AU: “NSW to censor student laptops”. 24 Oct 2008
BBC: “Australia trials national net filters“. 25 Oct 2008
SMH: “Net filters may block porn and gambling sites“. 27 Oct 2008