Aug 27
Is the NBN value for money?
Posted by Colin in Internet, Media, Opinion, Politics on 08 27th, 2014| | 2 Comments »

Today the Abbot government released their cost-benefit analysis of the NBN and their own, mixed-technology model. Not surprisingly (for a report commissioned by the Government), the analysis finds that the Coalition’s fibre-to-the-node NBN is more cost-effective than Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) model. The case for FTTP isn’t good, according to this document. The mixed-technology model comes out $16b ahead in terms of value for money.

I discussed this report on the The Project in the evening. Have a watch below.

Setting aside the issue of the impartiality of the study, one can assume they have the costs in the ball-park at least. But what about the benefits? This is where the debate will be, because some of the assumptions about the value to the country of faster broadband are highly questionable.

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Feb 14
Value for NBN Money
Posted by Colin in Opinion, Politics, Writing on 02 14th, 2011| | Comments Off

In the last few days I’ve found myself agreeing with Stephen Conroy again – always an unsettling experience. This time it was over the Economist Intelligence Unit’s recent ranking of Government broadband policies. They are pretty biased towards free market solutions, and so a massive government intervention like the NBN is unlikely to get top marks. (3.4/5 ain’t that bad, really.)

I wrote about this for New Matilda which you can read here: Actually, We’re Not Paying More For Less

Dec 7
R-18+ Games on their way?
Posted by Colin in Media, Politics on 12 7th, 2010| | Comments Off

Over the last few days I’ve been dealing with a flurry of media on the (missing) R-18+ games category, and I’m just catching my breath. The news on this front is that the Commonwealth government has come out strongly for amending the national classification code to allow R-18+ games. They released research which shows  that the links between games and childhood aggression are tenuous, at best; performed a survey which shows that the move is overwhelmingly popular; and made an official statement backing the reform. (I put some more info up at EFA.)

Apart from the fact that this ridiculous hole in the law is about to be fixed, what I find most interesting here is the very shrewd way that the Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O’Connor, has framed the debate. Rather than discuss the measure as an overdue liberalising of the censorship regime to allow broader entertainment choices for adults, it has been presented as a new ban on selling games to kids. It’s worked; the news on Sunday reported it as a new ban and even went so far as to show teenagers outraged at the patronising new policy, rather than happy (as they should be) that formerly banned games will now be available for sale, at least to those over 18.

I did a few news spots, which demonstrate the slightly confused but highly effective messaging. I also did an interview for ABC News 24 which you can see below.

With elections, report-writing and speaking engagements over for the time being, expect to see a few more updates here in the near future.

Nov 10
Who will guard our privacy online?
Posted by Colin in Internet, Politics on 11 10th, 2010| | Comments Off

Recently I’ve spent a good deal of my time thinking, reading and talking about online privacy. As Facebook and the rest of the social media set become more of a fixture in our lives, the public’s concern about privacy issues have become increasingly pronounced. Every Facebook incident seems to get widespread media coverage.

We’ve also been hearing a lot recently from the government about the amazing proliferation of services that will result from the National Broadband Network. Already, new sites and services pop up every day and have the potential to change lifestyles. There’s a cost, though, to shifting more of our work and social lives online, and this is our privacy.

The last year has seen an upsurge in news about threats to our privacy. Facebook’s decision to change their privacy settings caused an uproar when it was revealed users would be forced – some say, even tricked – into making more information public. More recently, Google received a rap over the knuckles for inadvertently compiling a database of information sniffed from open wireless connections as their street view cars prowled the neighbourhood. Scarier still, it has been revealed that the Attorney-General’s department are pushing for a scheme that would require all Australian phone and internet companies to keep records of your communications – phone, SMS, even email and web – in case it might be needed in a criminal investigation.

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Aug 17
Pick a team and play
Posted by Colin in Opinion, Politics, Writing on 08 17th, 2010| | 1 Comment »

Today I had an op-ed in the National Times (Fairfax) about grassroots participation in party politics. It’s been a long time since politics was a genuine mass movement. That’s not good for the country. Here I do my bit to encourage people to think about giving it a go.

Take a look here.

Aug 6
Doom for the filter?
Posted by Colin in Internet, Politics on 08 6th, 2010| | 4 Comments »

The biggest news for the filter in a while with Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey choosing JJJ’s Hack program to announce that the Coalition will not back the Conroy Curtain whether or not they win government. Due to the makeup of the Senate (both before and in all probability after the election) this might mean the policy is effectively dead. If you’re not up to speed, here I explain why:

Also on the dreaded filter, my video about “Five ways to get around the filter in 2 minutes” was chosen to be Crikey’s video of the day.

May 19
Why I joined the Greens
Posted by Colin in Opinion, Politics on 05 19th, 2010| | 7 Comments »

As some of those close to me will know, I have recently resigned my membership in the ALP and joined the Greens. Although it might seem a sudden move to some, it has been a long time coming and was not an easy decision or one taken lightly. I’m still new to the party, but I have learned enough to know that I have definitely made the right decision. If you’re curious as to my reasons and experiences, please read on.

The Greens

Why I joined the Labor Party

I don’t have a background in student politics – I came to political involvement much later in life. I joined the ALP when I lived in California. My political consciousness, while probably not underdeveloped compared to the average voter, was prodded by the continuing outrages of John Howard and George Bush. By the time the Tampa affair, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay were all unfolding, I felt something had to be done – if for no other reason but to feel a little less powerless.

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Mar 17
Question Time Cameo
Posted by Colin in Internet, Politics on 03 17th, 2010| | 4 Comments »

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…

Here’s Hansard, or an audio clip of this question time snippet. I believe the Crikey article in question may have in fact have been tabled. A document detailing our purported lies was tabled.

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.

Feb 24
Internet racism a symptom, not a cause
Posted by Colin in Internet, Opinion, Politics on 02 24th, 2010| | Comments Off

If you’re a politician, and something nasty is brought to your attention, what do you do? The best and sometimes only tool in your toolbox is the one you reach for. The tool is this: to pass a law banning it. Therefore, although it’s always discouraging, a story like this one, is far from unusual or surprising. “Laws to tackle racism on the Internet are set to be beefed up,” it announces.

“Authorities warn they are often powerless to act against online content, which is responsible for almost one in five racial vilification complaints,” it continues, then:

Attorney-General Robert McClelland has ordered the Australian Human Rights Commission to conduct a sweeping review of ”arrangements for dealing with racist material on the internet”.

”While freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental rights, this is not at the expense of the rights of people, while using the Internet, to be treated with equality, dignity and respect,” Mr McClelland told The Sunday Age.

Certainly, nobody likes hate speech. But these words, by our Attorney-General, are concerning. Firstly, they show a terrible lack of  consideration of the complexities of the issue, and secondly, they demote freedom of speech in a significant way.

Banning racist content on the Internet might seem like a good idea on the surface, but you don’t have to dig very deep before the idea becomes problematic. The existing laws throughout the states grapple with some thorny issues. How do you define hate speech? “Kill all Jews” certainly counts, but what about “Liberate Palestine”? Is Holocaust revisionism hate speech? What about an honestly held  opinion on the undesirability of immigration from a certain part of the world? Does this inspire “hatred, contempt or severe ridicule” against a group of persons? These ambiguities will become more problematic if a new national law is introduced that applies to every blog on the Internet.

The proposal also shows a considerable lack of understanding about the realities of censoring the Internet. The Internet, it should go without saying, is global. Billions of web pages are out there, far beyond the reach of Australian lawmakers, and reflecting a multitude of different cultural values. Content hosted in Australia can be removed, but it can just as easily be moved or copied overseas by its authors. It is therefore questionable whether any law could have a meaningful impact.

The comments by the AG and others pay lip service to freedom of speech, but their words lack conviction. Freedom of speech is fine, but “not at the expense of the rights of people… to be treated with equality, dignity and respect.” That sounds like a noble sentiment, but are we certain that freedom of speech shouldn’t include the right to be mocking, disrespectful and offensive? There are definitely limits to freedom of speech that we can all agree on. But the above comments seem more like a dismissal of free-speech concerns than a debate of their merits.

We need to ask ourselves, is this the best way to tackle racism in Australian society? Is racist web content a cause of racist attitudes, or merely a symptom of it? In our view, other, more substantive and community-based policies are needed if we want to see a real improvement in this area.

Feb 9
The Missing Party
Posted by Colin in Internet, Opinion, Politics on 02 9th, 2010| | 3 Comments »

Stilgherrian has been covering the iiNet trial for Crikey (good job, Stil), and wrote yesterday about Conroy’s rather worrying remarks on the subject indicating that the ISPs and entertainment industry should get together and sort out a way to solve this problem.

This makes some sense if the two parties get together and and discuss a new business model that brings entertainment to Internet users in a way that is convenient and fairly priced, or even if it allowed users to opt-in to a revenue sharing deal that legitimised peer-to-peer file sharing. It seems highly unlikely, though, that the copyright lobby will suddenly wake up and smell the reality. Instead, if they get together with ISPs at all, it will be to find a way to spy on users and shut down Bittorrent any way they can. They will wield the cudgel of legal action without restraint.

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