Conroy Wants Australia to be a Nanny State

In case you don't keep up with the news, there are two major Internet-related issues being considered in Australia right now. The first is the National Broadband Network (which I'm not going to talk about here) and the second is mandatory national Internet filter that Senator Stephen Conroy wants to introduce.

So what are people saying about the filter?

It's Not Going to Work

Nina Funnell, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald (and quoting Kathryn Small), makes a very good point'. She says the proposed filter will not be censoring the Internet, it'll be censoring the people who don't know much about the Internet (i.e. the people who won't know how circumvent the filter):
Small says anyone with a vested interest who knows enough about software design will be able to circumvent the system. "The real problem is Conroy will create a two-tiered system [with] a massive disparity between the 'haves' and 'have nots' of computer literacy."

The irony is that it is children and young people who will be most likely to get around the blocks.

Children are more computer-savvy and literate than any other generation, precisely because they have grown up with computers. This was demonstrated in 2007 when a 16-year-old, Tom Wood, took just 30 minutes to crack the Government's super-filter that cost a whopping $84 million to develop.

What a shame the Government hasn't learnt from that embarrassing bungle.

Funnell's whole article is really good, by the way, and I suggest you read it.

It's Politics, Not Child Protection

Another good article to read is Stilgherrian's 'Evidence-based policy? Not on this filter!' on the ABC's The Drum Unleashed website:
Politicians use the term "evidence-based" quite differently from police detectives or scientists.

Senator Stephen Conroy provided a glorious example earlier in the week when announcing that Australia will indeed get mandatory ISP-level internet filtering some time in...well, maybe in 2011.

For politicians, "evidence" isn't something to be gathered with forensic precision and preserved through a documented chain of custody. Nor it is something to be compiled transparently, justified through meticulous research and refined in the purifying fire of peer review.

No. For politicians, "evidence" is something to be plucked from wherever it can be found and sprinkled to justify a previously-chosen policy like so much magic fairy dust.

The Rudd government's internet censorship proposal is not about protecting the children. It's about politics.

If the plan were really about protecting the children, and if it were really evidence-based, the government would have first have figured out what risks children actually face - online and everywhere else. They'd then figure out the best methods of countering those risks. Then they'd figure out the most cost-effective ways of implementing those solutions.

If we did that, we'd probably find that the risks are the very same ones that child protection experts keep banging on about. Bullying by their peers. Abuse from within their own homes and families. Poverty and its associated health risks. Obesity.

But this is politics, not child protection.

Google & Kirby Weigh In

Finally, two more opinions worth reading are:

What Next?

Well, Conroy has released a discussion paper on the topic so, hopefully, people will submit in response to that excellent, well reasoned reasons for not using the filter (of which there are many). Ideally, our policymakers will then look at those arguments, realize the filter is useless (indeed, it's a case of minimal effect for maximal cost), and will stop wasting our time and money on it. More likely, though, they will forge ahead for a while longer. That's politics for you.

And if, despite all reasonable counterarguments, the filter does get implemented then two things will happen. The first is the broader "epic fail" of not, for example, making any difference to the sharing of child pornography. The second is the creation of whole new industry devoted to providing filter-circumvention services to people living in Australia. Certainly the latter is a service I'd pay for and I'm sure many others will as well.

So, basically, we'll be back to where we are now...though with a few key differences:

  • ISP costs will be higher (to pay for the filter)

  • Internet connection costs for most of us will be a little higher (to pay for getting around the filter)

  • Some third party service providers will be a little richer (for providing filter circumvention services)

  • The Internet will be slower (since we'll be going through a filter and, most likely, a proxy)

  • The country will be about $40 billion poorer (to pay for the filter)

All so a bunch of politicians and self-appointed keepers-of-our-morals feel better about themselves and all the "good work" that they're doing to "PROTECT THE CHILDREN!!!".

Further Reading