The campaign against mandatory internet filtering, which any loyal reader will know has consumed a good portion of my life these last few years, has heated up in recent days in exciting ways.
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres, RSF), after writing an open letter to Kevin Rudd late last year, last week added Australia to an “under surveillance” list of countries showing worrying trends in the field of Internet censorship. Although it doesn’t label Australia an “Internet Enemy” like China, Cuba or North Korea, it is a clear expression that our move down this path is viewed with alarm by those overseas concerned with freedom of expression. The Government is sensitive on this issue, and the Minister took issue with my reporting of the open letter in Crikey last December, firing off a volley to Crikey shortly thereafter.
In a clear sign that we have really touched a nerve, Senator Conroy has attacked both EFA and myself for our campaign in the Senate this week. After having a clear go at EFA for “misleading” RSF in question time Monday (summary here, including my rebuttal; also covered in ZDNet) on Tuesday he lambasted myself, and my colleagues at EFA for what he calls a “disgraceful misinformation campaign”.
Following the government’s announcement last year, civil libertarian group Electronic Frontiers Australia repeated the claims of reporters without borders in an article written by its CEO Colin Jacobs in Crikey. While one could possible excuse Reporters Without Borders for being ignorant of the government’s policy, the same cannot be said of the locally run EFA who through Colin Jacobs, chairman Nic Suzor, and board member Geordie Guy, have run a campaign to deliberately mislead the Australian public.
They have argued there is no child abuse material traded on the open internet yet the latest count there were 355 child abuse URLs on the ACMA blacklist and therefore the open internet.
They have argued that filtering will slow the internet and will result in over blocking despite the independent live pilot trial showing that internet filtering can be done…
The issues the Minister mentions are ones I am comfortable debating. Although others have used the slowing of internet speeds as an argument against the filter, since the filter’s details became known I have been careful to avoid this topic as I don’t believe it is a major factor. Of course, there is child pornography on the open internet; just not very much, and the evidence shows it does not remain there for long. Nor would the filter prevent deliberate access. I am therefore not inclined to modify my arguments based on this broadside.
Despite the seriousness of the charges, this is good news. Not only does the legislation appear to be temporarily delayed, the Minister has all but conceded our campaign against the filter has succeeded in swaying public opinion. Because we have swayed it against the filter, he has labelled it misleading, basically accusing us of lying to the public. We, of course, don’t see it that way, and will stick to our guns.
I am proud to take part in what appears to be a tradition; EFA has managed to equally piss off one or two of Conroy’s predecessors. This document details EFA’s response, via the Senate Privileges Committee, to remarks made by Senator Alston in 1999. The situation was much the same, with the Howard government coming under criticism by the ACLU for internet censorship plans. Senator Alston accused EFA of being “low grade, undergraduate political activists” and “maniacs”. “Misleading” seems a bit tame by comparison.