Q and A from my thoughts on the internet filter
Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 @ 11:21PM
With parliament back in session I have been able to continue my conversations with my Labor colleagues about my ideas for improving our internet policy by introducing a ‘mandatory choice’ (providing an opt out for adults and businesses) approach to the proposed mandatory filtering on RC classification content on the internet.
My understanding is that the bills are not going to be introduced this week and next week is Senate Estimates so it will probably be in the following sitting fortnight in February or later in March.
Once again thanks to those who have taken the time to make considered contributions to this blog on the range of complex issues that form part of the debate around this policy. I have tried to keep up with the conversations and am ever grateful to Pia for helping clarify issues as they emerge.
With this in mind I thought it would be helpful to try and do justice to the specific questions put to me via the blog over the last month or so. I am very conscious that in doing so I will probably generate more contention so I urge that you view my responses in the spirit they are given: Trying to clarify misconceptions about the policy, its origins and attributes and at the same time describing how my preferred approach of an opt-out could assist addressing the concerns conveyed or implied in the questions. There are some I don’t have the detailed information on and will, as Pia has said, refer them to the Minister. As always, let me know your thoughts.
UPDATE: Please note, all the questions below have been put to Senator Lundy through the comments on the previous two blog posts she has posted: My thoughts on the Filter & Further thoughts on the Filter
Is Senator Lundy for or against a filter and why?
I do not believe a mandatory filter will achieve the policy goals stated and I agree that mandatory filtering creates an issue around free expression and business confidence. However, I know there are many Australians, particularly those with children who would choose a filter option given the choice and I think the low uptake of such filtering solutions in the general community to date has largely been an issue of education and that people have to know the option exists to seek it out and enable it through their ISP. Unfortunately we currently have quite a low level of technical knowledge in this country and it has been very disempowering for many parents who want to know what to do.
I believe that the best path forward is one of mandatory choice where as part of their normal interaction with an ISP all subscribers are provided information about filtering so they can make an informed choice (to filter or to not filter), and at that point we have a fantastic opportunity to provide further information and resources about general Internet safety best practices. This option ought to be changeable at any point and re-asked at subsequent service renewals.
Why does Conroy keep on saying that Australia will be like other democracies who have a filter like Italy and Finland however fails to mention to the public that those countries have an opt in filter not mandatory.
Italy is the closest to the proposed model, as it is mandatory, is filtered at the ISP, however the scope is limited to child pornography. Below is a brief outline of what is happening in some other countries compiled by Liam Tung from ZDNet (ref). The information was compiled from the NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service paper on Internet Censorship and Mandatory Filtering which is a useful reference.
- In Norway and Sweden, the ISP filtering of all child pornographic material had been implemented at Telenora from 2004. Other ISPs had not followed suit.
- Since 2005, Germany imposed filtering requirements on search engines rather than ISPs.
- Italy had passed a decree in 2007 which required all ISPs to block access to child pornography websites within six hours of being notified by the National Centre against Child Pornography.
- Attempts in the US to extend the Child Online Protection Act, which requires federally funded institutions, such as libraries and schools, to block material that is harmful to minors, have been contested on the grounds of free speech.
- New Zealand’s ISPs voluntarily filter content and those that do tend to market themselves as family-friendly. David Cunliffe, the relevant Minister in the outgoing New Zealand Labour Government, said New Zealand would not be following Australia’s mandatory ISP filtering scheme.
Why can’t Senator Lundy just cross the floor on this issue?
As a Labor Senator, I am bound by the Caucus decision unless a conscience vote applies under our Federal Labor Party rules. In practical terms this means I can work internally to try and convince my colleagues and gain Caucus support for changes to policy, whatever the outcome I am part of the Labor caucus and we vote as one in the parliament.
For all the criticism this model attracts, I believe that it usually works quite well and has contributed to the achievements of the Labor Party in over century of participation in the Federal Parliament.
Why are websites on abortion, euthanasia, sites where gay people can talk about their sexuality/problems etc are being blocked?
The current proposal is for RC content to be blocked, and what falls under the RC category is determined independently by people with experience, with additional transparency and accountability measures to be applied. As previously noted, my view that there ought to be an adult opt out would resolve these concerns.
Does the Government have any evidence that inadvertent access to refused classification material is an actual problem? Is there any evidence that “inadvertent access” to refused classification material causes lasting harm to either the viewer of such material or to society at large? Where is the evidence that implementing this sort of filter will make the Internet “safer” for children? Or anyone for that matter? Given the enormous amount of focus on protecting children was there a study that conclusively proves that internet filtering will protect or save children? A clarification on how will the filter go about and protect children would be appreciated by the tech community.
As an elected representative I receive a lot of correspondence from people who are concerned about their children using the Internet and accessing (purposefully or by accident) inappropriate content.
There is research that talks about the long term effects of child exposure to violent or graphic sexual content. However, I am unaware of any study that looks specifically at the long term effects of content that is specifically Refused Classification in Australia. (please post any useful references if you have any). And we can’t forget the Hamilton – Flood Paper from Feb 2003.
- UPDATE: I have referenced the Hamilton paper because at the time it was released it had a big impact on the thinking within Federal Labor. Labor had maintained a stance of opposing mandatory internet filtering (I was shadow Minister for IT throughout this period) It was in the term following the 2004 election, when I was no longer the shadow minister for IT, that Labor’s policy changed to one supporting mandatory filtering. The Hamilton report assertion the technical capacity to filter was now feasible made a significant contribution to Labor changing its policy in my opinion. That said I need to acknowledge Michael Flood has since clarified his position and I think Hamilton has been trying to explain himself too.
For general interest, we found one research literary review that spoke about the known negative effects of children’s exposure to violent and graphic media (not limited to the Internet), but also showed through analysis that family engagement in how children use the Internet reduced such exposure and potential negative effects. Children’s Exposure to Internet Content: Effects of Family Context, Chang-Hoan Cho & Hongsik John Cheon, 2005.
Why is Labor pushing for a broader Internet filtering solution when the NetAlert program had such low uptake? Why not just stick with an opt-in system?
The low uptake of NetAlert was a sign of its failure as a policy to protect children, and indicates that more effective policy is needed. There are many Australians who are completely unaware of the ‘scheduled filter’ or optional filtering that all ISPs are currently required to provide (see page 2, NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service paper on Internet Censorship and Mandatory Filtering). So basically the “pull” or opt-in approach to Internet safety when presented passively and with poor promotion is seen as being failed policy.
I think creating a ‘mandatory choice’ (of a filtered internet service or an open internet service) to all Internet subscribers along with supplementary education information about Internet safety addresses the issue of saturation by raising the level of awareness for all Internet subscribers. It gives them the information they need to make an informed choice about their particular circumstances, and arming them with other information that will help them create a safer environment if they have children in their care.
Will the filter give parents a false sense of security in protecting their children?
I think there is a risk of this, yes. Note the Government has always promoted this policy as paart of a suite of measures designed to improve internet safety.
Why did the Labor policy change from an optional clean feed in the last election to a mandatory clean feed? (Ref: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/12/31/2129471.html). My computer is not used by children, Australian or otherwise, and is not public. Why will my connection be censored?
The policy is mandatory for everyone and although the documentation and some media reports available from 2007 specifically mentioned children, it was always meant to be mandatory for everyone. It has been a point of some debate that the policy has changed in the last couple of years from opt-out for adults to mandatory for everyone and my second blog post reflected on the how the policy was expressed in media reports around the time of the last election.
In this regard I need to take issue with the way Crikey reflected on my view about this in their article http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/02/02/filtering-the-facts-conroy-slips-up-when-hitting-back/ It is important to me to clarify that the policy was always intended to be mandatory and it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that it wasn’t. Most of the confusion stems from media reports of references by the Minister to adults opting out but these were in relation to earlier consideration of an additional aspect of filtering for X classified content, for which adult consumption is not illegal. There were other media reports that referred to an adult opt-out without the full context and I am frankly not surprised there has been some confusion (as the example in the question clearly demonstrates). The clarification by the Minister that the filter would only apply to RC removed the need to make a distinction of an adult opt-out component. Here are some additional media references that will hopefully clarify this point. Note the link may not be able to supply the actual article.
Australian, IIA ready for new internet censor battle, 19th December 2007 “Senator Conroy said that if elected, Labor would introduce laws requiring ISPs to provide “clean feeds”.”
Herald Sun, Porn filter may slow internet. 31st December 2007 “Under the plan, all internet service providers will be required to provide a “clean” feed to households and schools, free of pornography and other inappropriate material. Any internet users who want to “opt out” of the clean feed will have to contact their ISP.” (Senator Conroy)
Courier Mail, Opinion: Nanny Rudd censors net. 1st January 2008 “As the then Labor opposition’s communications spokesman Stephen Conroy said in August: “We have an opt-out provision, so for X-rated (content) they can opt out, but for child porn and violent sites, they’re completely blocked, there’s no opt-out.””
Canberra Times, Opinion: Beware creeping wowserism in internet controls. 2nd January 2008 “Conroy said. “We will work with the industry to get the best policy. Labor is committed to introducing mandatory ISP filtering.”
Stephen Conroy came out on radio and stated that he will be filtering individual urls, which means page by page. Please confirm?
This is correct. It is not necessarily ‘blanket’ blocking entire websites, but rather specific URLs/pages that are classified RC. Some sites may be completely blocked if they are all RC.
How will the lack of an R18+ classification for games be impacted by the filter policy?
This issue is already being looked at, and a public consultation was launched December 16th 2009. Submissions close 28th February 2010 so make sure you get in and help finally resolve this issue. http://www.ag.gov.au/www/agd/agd.nsf/Page/Consultationsreformsandreviews_AnR18+ClassificationforComputerGames-PublicConsultation
When will the public see a copy of what actual legislation is being proposed?
This is a question best answered by the office of Minister Conroy, however I expect it will be late Feb or March.
What I would like to know is, how do you think you and the previous government differ in your attitude to participatory democracy?
I think this question, while asked within a forum on Internet filtering is a much broader question. In terms of participatory democracy, this government, some departments and agencies have worked hard to improve participatory democracy through better consultation, online engagement, collaboration on policy development and much more. The Gov 2.0 Taskforce launched by Minister Tanner and Minister Ludwig at my Gov 2.0 Public Sphere event last year was a great success and yielded a report that starts to build our path forward to more openness, accountability, transparency and engagement in government. Our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd has on many occasions spoken about the importance of open government, and I have been working on public engagement projects. All of these initiatives will hopefully lead to many more opportunities for participatory democracy. I am actually very proud of the steps we have made as a government, but also keenly aware of the concerns people have expressed that this mandatory filter policy seems to contradict our commitment to pursuing open government. I hope through my proposed amendments to ease these concerns and enhance our overall commitment to openness and transparency in government.
As Pia said Kate “intends to bring these concerns to the attention of her colleagues.” How? When? Kate, can you please provide an update on your response to Labor’s Internet censorship plans? The lack of response from local MPs and relevant ministers, apart from copy-and-paste press release style emails, is deeply worrying. Is there nobody in the Labor party even slightly concerned about the proposed legislation?
I have already started taking my ideas to my colleagues, and as I’ve said, plan to amend our policy through our internal Labor Caucus processes. You can be confident that the lobbying efforts of all sides of the debate have created awareness about this issue.
Could you tell me whether the one-sided response on this forum is an accurate reflection of public feeling as perceived by your office (and indeed Senator Conroy’s) in general, or are you receiving thousands of snail mail letters saying “please censor the internet” that those commenting on this forum are not aware of?
About ½ of the correspondence I’ve received on this topic has been pro-filter, and ½ been against.
UPDATE: Please note, this statistic refers only to the letters and emails I have received which has totalled about 110. The 800+ comments received on the three related blog posts on this website have been overwhelmingly against the filter, with less than 2% being pro filtering. We can’t judge the technical knowledge of contributors and it would be inappropriate to publish the letters/emails of people without their consent. The letters/emails against the filter have generally been more detailed and referenced.
Why not make the RC content list absolutely public? Why the blacklist have to be kept secret? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for it to be open and widely available so the concerned parent can check for themselves whether their ISP do the proper job of filtering those nasty sites. It will also give parents the opportunity to implement the filter in their own home network and get alerts everytime the children tried to access the site on the filter so they can actually educate the children.
If the list is public it would mean the government is publishing web site addresses that may be for illegal content. While not all RC is illegal, this is not appropriate for government to do which is why the Minister is going to such lengths to improve the transparency of the management and maintenance of the blacklist. I acknowledge much of the concern relates to the secrecy of the blacklist and the nature of the internet filter: if its filtered, we just won’t know it exists and there will be none debate of the nature that occurs about books, films that constitutes an ongoing check and balance on the community standard of what consitutues RC. Again, an opt out for adults removes this concern and creates a public check and balance for the application of the RC rating in the internet filter.