This is part two of a transcription of MMM’s Spoonman show on internet censorship, which aired 13 November 2008. You can download the podcast here, and Part One, an interview with EFA Chair Dale Clapperton, is transcribed here.
Here’s part two, an interview with Steve
Dolby Dalby from internet service provider Iinet. And part three, with Matthew Black and Adam Darbyshire.
SpoonMan: When we come back, I still have a bunch of people I want to talk to. So listeners – I’ll ask you just to sit back. By all means send emails through in reaction, by all means send SMS. But I’ve got another few people to talk to yet.
One of them is a guy who’s got more letters after his name in terms of IT than the average alphabet contains. Another is a forensic expert in internet matters. And I’m hopeful to talk to a senior executive from Iinet, one of – in fact the only ISP that I’m aware of – that has decided to jump aboard the Government’s trial which is planned for just a few weeks away.
SpoonMan: For those of you who want to make some sort of formal complaint to a couple of people over, I guess two connected but separate issues. The first is the internet censorship plan that we’ve been discussing. Stephen Conroy is the Labor Senator responsible for Communications in this country. If you’ve got a pen, or you’re sitting at your computer, I urge you to jot down this email address and send him an email of protest – essentially “we don’t want it, we don’t need it, please back off.” Stephen Conroy’s email address is email@example.com.
Now the holdup individual in terms of the R category for computer games is Mike Atkinson. Now he’s the South Australian attorney-general (I need to just give you a little bit of background here). Essentially there’s a council of Attorneys-General, when the Federal and all the State Attorneys-General get together in a room and they have discussions about what kind of law changes they might bring into place. OK? Now, basically every other Attorney-General in the country has said “Yes, we should get an R rated video game or computer game classification”. The stick-in-the-mud is Michael Atkinson from South Australia. Let me give you his email address, then you can protest to him as well. It is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
OK. Now as know, or as you may or may not know, the Government is trying to set up a trial of this, a limited trial over a number of weeks, that will be commencing pretty quickly. As far as I’m aware, the only ISP to jump on board the trial is Iinet. Online I have the chief regulatory officer for the ISP, Steve Dalby. G’day Steve, welcome to the show.
Steve Dalby (Iinet): G’day, thankyou.
SpoonMan: Now: why have you agreed to jump aboard the test?
SD: Because we think the whole notion of this internet filtering, the way it’s been proposed, is absolutely dopey. And probably the best way to highlight the shortcomings of the proposal is to be part of the process, so that we can publicly and regularly highlight the failings of the trial.
SM: What form will the trial take, and when will it commence, Steve?
SD: It’s proposed – there’s – the thing hasn’t started yet, but it’s supposed to start Christmas Eve, 24th December. And the form that’s proposed to us… We’ve submitted an expression of interest at this stage, so we don’t know whether or not we will be selected, and perhaps because we’ve been outspoken we may not be, but –
SM: So just on that point Steve, so the Government’s likely to try and conduct the trial with so-called “friendly” ISPs? Or is there no such thing?
SD: I don’t think there’d be too many “friendly” ISPs, because the impact on ISPs is going to be significant. But that’s not really what worries us. We just think the whole thing’s pointless. There’s three broad things, Spoonie, that I think are wrong with this trial.
One is we know it won’t work. It’s not new, it’s not a new adventure, this process. It’s been around the traps not only in Australia but in other parts of the world, and nobody’s embraced it. We know it won’t work. So that’s one.
We think it will affect the performance of customers’ internet services. It’s great if, like me, you’re on a really high speed internet connection – you may not notice the degradation. But if you’re on a dialup connection or a satellite connection, and we’ve got a lot of customers on satellite connection – they’re just going to crippled, I think. And so we want to be part of this so that we can measure that, and have a look at how badly it does affect those services.
And thirdly, which is probably the scariest part of it, is the impact that it might have on civil liberties, where there is a nice neat scope defined at the moment which says that this will filter out child pornography, which nobody supports and we all think child pornography should – you know, it is illegal in this country, and it should be stopped.
SD: But the Minister… I’ve just got in front of me a quote from Questions on Tuesday in the Senate, and after Scott Ludlam, Senator from Western Australia, the Australian Greens, had asked a question about the trial, Senator Conroy, the Minister said, and I’ll read it so I don’t get accused of misquoting him: “The pilot will specifically test filtering against the ACMA blacklist of prohibited internet content” (which we don’t have a problem with. He goes on to say:) “That’s mostly child pornography.” (And then, this is the tricky bit, he says:) “As well as filtering out other unwanted content.”
SM: And of course “unwanted content” can be anything the Government deems to be “unwanted”, even though the Australian people might want to look at it.
SD: Yeah, well who knows, who knows who’s going to put this blacklist together? If it’s restricted to child pornography sites, well that’s one thing. But if a bureaucrat somewhere in a faceless department in Canberra say, “Oh well I don’t think people should see this“, whatever this might be, “and I don’t think they should see that, so I’m gonna add them to the blacklist”…
SM: So it really could be anything that the Government deems in political opposition to them, for example?
SD: Yes, or it might be about religious beliefs, or about health issues, or, y’know, who knows what it might be about?
SM: A couple of examples I mentioned were websites set up for example like the Phillip Nietschke website, with the voluntary euthanasia issue, that might go. Things like for example a website setting up some sort of policy alternative to the illicit drug situation in the country, that could go as well. Just sort of to mention a couple off the top of my head.
SD: And there’s other things, like issues about bulimia, and those sorts of health issues that are quite serious health issues, and as you said, assisting people with suicide. Where does it stop, and who’s making the decisions? It’s fair enough if it’s illegal, and it’s black and white, it’s been through the process, through Parliament, it’s been passed, it’s illegal; but “unwanted content”? Unwanted by who?
SM: Yeah, well exactly. Clearly “unwanted” by the Government, not necessarily by the people. So, Steve, should you be selected for the trial, when do you believe it would wrap?
SD: Well that’s really dependent on how long the Government wants to run it I suppose, and how, what the results might show. We’ll be putting a proposal to Government outlining how we would do it, and as I said we’ve not been shy about making our comments and criticisms about the process. It could run for three to six months, we’re not really sure at this stage. Assuming a start around Christmas, we could be talking about June, July.
SM: OK. Look at the end of the day too, I guess in terms of children being protected from content that they really shouldn’t get access to, at the end of the day, that really is a parental issue as far as I’m concerned. And obviously there are plenty of software aids that parents can download for free from government websites to their home PC to stop the kids from getting access to porn, or indeed to stop access to any child pornography websites that might be inadvertently clicked on or whatever.
SD: That’s a good point you raise. We provide that free on our website, and it’s been there for many years. And I can tell you very accurately how many people have ever actually downloaded it.
SM: What’s the number, Steve?
SD: It’s less than one. Have a guess.
SM: I haven’t the faintest idea.
SD: Zero. Nobody downloads it.
SD: How long have you had the software there? Hang on, so – on your website, the iinet website, you can download what’s effectively a net nanny software package –
SD: How long has it been there?
SM: We have a link there – I would say, well, it’s been there as long as I’ve been there, and I’ve been in the company six years.
SD: And not one person’s downloaded it?
SM: No, it’s never been downloaded. Look, there’s a lot of that software available, and parents should be supervising their kids. They should be supervising what they get access to, and that’s where that supervision and that decision-making should take place. So that if it’s a five year old, there may be certain things that you’d restrict those kids from getting access to, and the parents are the right ones to be making that choice. A thirteen year old –
SD: The Government seems to arguing, though, or at least a foundation argument of theirs is that the current generation of parents are not net-savvy, the kids are extremely net-savvy, so they need to almost become de facto parents until the generation of kids these days grows up and has babies of their own.
SM: [laughs] Well that’s exactly the reason why it won’t work. Because the kids are savvy, they’ll be the ones that crack this filtering before anybody else. We will expect a twelve-year-old to crack this in twenty minutes. There’s an internet forum called “Whirlpool”, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it?
SD: I have, yes.
SM: It’s an Australian website, and there are people on there already talking about having set up, in expectation of what this filtering trial will do, they’ve already set up their bypasses.
SM: It’s pointless.
SD: Steve Dalby, I very much appreciate your time sir. We will stay in touch as things develop. Thank you kindly for your time.
SM: You’re welcome Spoonie. Good night.
SD: That’s the chief regulatory officer for the ISP Iinet, who have basically said to the government “Yeah, ok, we’ll come on board for your trial” – but with the stated and express purpose of proving to the government just how unworkable censoring the internet at the ISP level will be.
There’s more to come on this subject, gang, I’ve got a couple of other people I want to talk to, including an IT professional with more letters after his name than the average alphabet, and also a director of eNinja.
Now we’re dedicating the first part of the show tonight to, well, effectively wage war on the Government’s plan to censor the internet at the ISP level.
On to Part Three.