Greens Senator Scott Ludlam writes:
In the Senate question time at about 2:30PM Eastern Summer Time today I plan on asking Communications Minister Stephen Conroy about his project for mandatory internet censorship, the so-called ‘clean feed’ which you’ve written to me about.
If you miss the broadcast I’ll have the transcript and a video clip here as soon as possible.
Depending on the Minister’s answer, you might like to give him a call on (02) 6277 7480 or email him on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited 1300 (WST) to add: Is it not a really bad idea for a Government Senator to treat someone from the party with the Senate balance of power as though they’re a snotty, impertinent child? Rude bastard.
Senator Conroy completely failed to answer the question that was asked, which will surprise no-one who’s been following this debate. I’m also getting the impression from today’s proceedings, and from the EOI call, that the Government actually has no idea how to implement internet filtering, and expects private industry to step up and do all the work for them.
Here’s my transcript of the question time segment.
President of the Senate: Senator Ludlam.
Senator Ludlam: Thanks Mr President. My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. I refer to the statements made by Senator Conroy in Senate Estimates hearings on October 20, 2008, in which the Minister said that Sweden, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand had mandatory internet filtering systems similar to those now being trialled in Australia. Can the Minister explain why he made this statement, in the light of the fact that in not one of those countries is the filtering system mandatory; and in fact the various systems in those countries are entirely voluntary, if they exist at all?
President of the Senate: The Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy.
Senator Conroy [laughs smugly, as if to a child]: Thankyou, Mr President, and I thank the Senator for his question, and further thank him for providing me with notice of the question.
The Government’s ISP filtering policy is one component of the Govenrment’s comprehensive 125.8 million dollar cybersafety plan. This plan contains a comprehensive set of measures to combat online threats, and how parents and educators protect children from inappropriate material. I can assure the Senator that the government will implement the ISP filtering component of this policy in a considered and consultative way. We are aware of technical concerns with filtering technology, and that is why we are conducting a pilot, to put these claims to the test. We are happy to have an open debate about these technical issues.
ISPs in a number of Western countries, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, and Canada have voluntarily introduced ISP-level filtering. The government is of course considering the experience of these countries in the development of its own policy. This international experience will also inform the Government’s upcoming, real-world, live, pilot.
On 10 November I released an expression of interest seeking the participation of ISPs and mobile telephone operators in this live pilot. The pilot will test filtering specifically against the ACMA blacklist of prohibited internet content, which is mostly child pornography, as well as filtering of other unwanted content.
While the ACMA blacklist is currently around 1300 URLs, the pilot will test against this list, as well as filtering against a range of URLs to around 10 000, so that the impact on network performance of a larger blacklist can be examined.
The live pilot will provide valuable, real-world evidence on the potential impact on internet speeds and costs to industry, and will help ensure we implement a filtering solution that is efficient, effective, and easy for Australian families to use. The pilot is intended to take a very flexible approach, and cover a range of different ISPs and types of connections. The technical testing framework for the pilot indicates a range of speeds will be tested, based on what most households can currently access. This range is not a hard and fast limit. Some people do currently have connections above 12 Meg, and the framework notes that consideration will also be given to testing performances above 12 Meg. Should an ISP wish to extend the pilot beyond 12 Meg, they are invited to put forward this in their expression of interest.
The technical testing framework also notes that costs including up-front costs to acquire and implement the technology, and costs to maintain the ISP filtering solutions, will be examined during the pilot. The costs are expected to vary depending on the size and complexity of the ISP, the type of filtering solution chosen, and the manner in which filtering is deployed by the ISP.
The pilot is an opportunity for the Australian industry to now come forward and engage directly with the Australian government in the development of ISP filtering. I strongly urge industry to become involved. As I said earlier, the Government intends to take a consultative –
President of the Senate: Senator Conroy, your time has expired. Senator Ludlam?
Senator Ludlam: Thankyou Mister President, and I thank the Minister for his attempt to answer the question [laughs from crowd]
I have a supplementary, in two parts, if I may. Will the Minister be providing a retraction to the Environment, Communications and the Arts committee as the answer he gave then was substantially different to the answer that was provided to that committee? [‘hear, hear’]
Will the Minister provide us a definition of what he means by “unwanted content” and where we might find a definition of “unwanted”? Will the Minster acknowledge the legitimate concerns by commentators and many members of the public that such a system will degrade internet performance, prove costly and inefficient, and do very little to achieve the Govenrment’s policy objectives; and furthmore that the Government’s proposal for dynamic filtering is the equivalent of the Post Office being required to open every single piece of mail?
President of the Senate: Senator Conroy?
Senator Conroy: [barely containing his mirth] Thankyou. The Senator asks a very la-ha-harge range of questions there, which it would be impossible for me to actually answer in one minute. So I will happily get you some further information on that very long list of questions. But if I could just again emphasise the fact that we have taken a consultative approach with industry, we have invited them to participate in the trial, and we have asked for the industry to come forward and work with government.
That is the basis on which we are progressing. We are seeking to test the claims – and they are many and varied. And that is why we are conducting a live trial. So in terms of the further detail, and as I’ve said it was quite a comprehensive list of questions there, I am happy to come back and provide the Senator with further information.
Later in the session:[Hansard, via Greens MPs]
Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (3.32 pm) – I move: That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Senator Conroy) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ludlam today relating to Internet filtering.
I want to briefly comment on the response by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to my question earlier about mandatory internet filtering. The reason I put the question to the minister in the form that I did was to clarify whether the government’s intention is to provide an opt-in internet filtering system in Australia for concerned parents or other people who might want to provide a filtered internet system for their families or for themselves, or whether the minister intends to go down the track of a mandatory feed. With some regret, I must admit that the minister’s comments have caused a great deal of concern. He has probably inadvertently muddied the waters quite substantially about the system that the government is proposing.
In estimates hearings on 20 October the minister listed a number of countries as trialling or having in current use mandatory internet filters. He listed a number of countries, including the UK, Canada and those that I mentioned in my question earlier. The reason I put the question to the minister in the form that I did is that none of those countries – the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand and Finland – has mandatory content blockers on their service providers. That is not even under trial in these places. It was trialled briefly, I believe, in Sweden, but it was optional, not mandatory, and that was embroiled in controversy last year when police tried to add certain kinds of peer to peer trackers to the list of what were meant to be simply child pornography sites. So we immediately saw the proposed expansion of the list that was being run in Sweden by police for completely unrelated purposes. I would put it to the minister – and I hope he would agree – that the list of countries which have mandatory filtering is not one that we particularly want to join. I am speaking of Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, India, Burma and some other countries. These countries are in many ways highly repressive, and I do not think that is a precedent we want to follow in Australia.
The problem with the concern and alarm that has been raised in the online community is that the minister has been very careful not to clarify what kind of system the government is proposing for use in Australia. We saw the same rather evasive approach in response to my questions earlier. All we are really after from the minister is, firstly, a retraction of the statements that he made before the estimates committee on 20 October, because quite clearly the story has changed – and at least that is quite welcome. The minister is not proposing that the countries that he listed a couple of weeks ago have mandatory content blockers. Also, we would like a clarification of what the government intends. What the minister said in the press was that, when this trial is proved successful, the government will move to institute such a system in Australia and that the process will be consultative. I do not see a great deal of consultation going on. The process is just rolling out, and a great deal of concern has reached my office and I presume also the minister’s office. So I would really appreciate some of those concerns being taken seriously.