Australia's Great Firewall collapses under political pressure!

Alison sez, "the combined opposition of the Australian Liberal Party, Greens and two Independent senators has effectively canned the unworkable censorship measures the Australian government has been trying to push through."
The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has consistently ignored advice from a host of technical experts saying the filters would slow the internet, block legitimate sites, be easily bypassed and fall short of capturing all of the nasty content available online.

Despite this, he is pushing ahead with trials of the scheme using six ISPs - Primus, Tech 2U, Webshield, OMNIconnect, Netforce and Highway 1.

But even the trials have been heavily discredited, with experts saying the lack of involvement from the three largest ISPs, Telstra, Optus and iiNet, means the trials will not provide much useful data on the effects of internet filtering in the real-world.

Senator Conroy originally pitched the filters as a way to block child porn but - as ISPs, technical experts and many web users feared - the targets have been broadened significantly since then.

ACMA's secret blacklist, which will form the basis of the mandatory censorship regime, contains 1370 sites, only 674 of which relate to depictions of children under 18. A significant portion - 506 sites - would be classified R18+ and X18+, which is legal to view but would be blocked for everyone under the proposal.

Web censorship plan heads towards a dead end (Thanks, Alison!)

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  1. For the win! As long as you have one country advocating free speech(and you’re smart enough to use proxies or a VPN or a mirror), all countries on the internet have a good shot at free speech. Great news.

  2. It may not be over yet but this is still great news for our Antipodean cousins, coming hot on the heels of the news from NZ. There must be something about being upside-down that helps make better copyfighters…

  3. It’s good that the media attention is increasing on this topic… Yet still so many people I speak to are shocked when I tell them what is actually going on.

    In response to my letter I sent Conroy, I received a long pdf that detailed all the money that the government want to invest in ‘protecting the children’ – There are actually quite a few good proposals which include increasing the budget for criminal investigations for online predators.

    My only real issue was that the response letter completely avoided _ALL_ my concerns that I expressed with the net censorship. It’s like we are talking to deaf ears.

    We must not let our guard down and continue to speak up about protecting our basic rights. Important people are starting to notice now; this is the time where we be the most effective.

    If anyone is interested reading the letter the government sent me, fire me your details and I will forward it on.

  4. Does anyone have stats on the number of online predators caught recently in various locales? I’ve always been curious about how big a problem it really is.

  5. The collapse started, oddly enough, when it became known that one of the sites on the secret blacklist was an anti-abortion site featuring pictures of aborted foetuses.

    I guess the conservative Christians suddenly had cold feet about the whole censorship thingy.

  6. Second the query over why the banned site list is secrect. I really hope we can keep the momentum against this going. There was the big Get Up campaign then it faded a little. The fear is that people think the battle is won and stop making a fuss. Rebelrob would like to see the reply you got. Can you post it anywhere?

  7. It’s likely that the list is secret to avoid publicising the sites in question; otherwise it could be used as a guide by people looking for child porn, which is less than ideal.

  8. Samu, this is not just child pornography sites this is anything that the government considers unfit for whatever reason. I would like to know what unfit for whatever reason is likely to include. That doesn’t mean they need to publish a guide book. The boundaries for site blocking are very fuzzy and there is very little to stop them being extended to for example religious sites, political sites or anything else.

  9. Of course, but any open blacklist would have to be heavily edited or vague, at least in parts, to the point of uselessness. And how far could anyone trust an only partially open list?

  10. To clarify, I’m not arguing that the blacklist should be secret. The very fact that it can’t realistically be adequately transparent is an argument against having one at all.

  11. This is a great step, but the fight is not over yet. There is still potential for the senate balance to change before this gets voted on, which means there is still the possibility that this will get in.

  12. I was a fervent opponent of the Liberal government for over ten years.

    I voted Labor because I thought they genuinely were going to change things.

    I see now, with this, that they are just as subservient to the Christian right, and just as fascist as the Liberals were, and I can say with absolute certainty that I will NEVER ever vote for them again.

    Shame, K-Rudd, Shame. Mr “we’ll build a multi-billion dollar internet infrastructure” in less than 2 years turns into Mr “we’re going to CENSOR the internetz! Cuz it’s bad and has bad stuff on it!”.

    I’m ashamed to be an Australian when I think about this.

  13. The daggers are starting to appear in the back of the minister that is behind the filter:
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/02/27/2503830.htm

    Choice quote:

    “I think Senator Conroy should commit now to it being done legislatively, so the Parliament can have a say in this.
    “He shouldn’t try to sneak it through the back door, through a regulation or other instrument.
    “I think he should just come upfront and say if he’s going to do it, it being such a significant issue, it should be done by legislation to remove any doubt.” –Senator Nick Minchin

    Ouch. And bravo.

  14. Shame, K-Rudd, Shame. Mr “we’ll build a multi-billion dollar internet infrastructure” in less than 2 years turns into Mr “we’re going to CENSOR the internetz! Cuz it’s bad and has bad stuff on it!”.

    I hear ya, Palilay, I hear ya.

    I guess that it’s easier to create an artificial bogeyman and set oneself up as a fake ‘protector of the innocent’ than to bring on genuine change and progress.

  15. @Bekah –

    I’m actually a little reluctant to post the letter as I have just seen the disclaimer that was attached –

    Any review, re-transmission, disclosure, dissemination or other use of, or taking of any action in reliance upon, this information by persons or entities other than the intended recipient is prohibited and may result in severe penalties.

  16. @RebelRob and Bekah

    Well, I’ve got no such disclaimer on my response from the Minister (an old-school paper letter), so here goes: (apologies for the length)

    Thank you for your letter received 23 May 2008 to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy concerning Internet Service Provider (ISP) filtering. The Minister appreciates your concerns relating to this important issue and has asked the Department to respond on his behalf.

    The internet is an essential tool for all Australian children through which they can exchange information, be entertained, socialise and do research. The ability to use online tools effectively provides both a skill for life and the means to acquire new skills.

    However, while the internet has created substantial benefits for children, it has alos exposed them to a number of dangers, including exposure to offensive content. As such, parents rightly expect the Government to play its part in the protection of children online.

    The Government has committed $125.8 million over the next four years to a comprehensive range of cyber-safety measures, including law enforcement, filtering and education. Measures include:

    Australian Federal Police (AFP) Child Protection Operations Team – funding to detect and investigate online child sex exploitation

    Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions – funding to help deal with the increased activity resulting from the work of the AFP to ensure that prosecutions are handled quickly

    ISP level filtering – funding to develop and implement ISP filtering, including undertaking a real world ‘live’ pilot

    Education activities – funding the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to implement a comprehensive range of education activities

    Websites / Online helpline – funding to ACMA to improve current Government cybersafety website resources and to make them easier for parents to use, and to provide up to date information. ACMA will also develop a children’s cyber-safety website to provide information specifically for children, and improve the online helpline to provide a quick and easy way for children to report online incidents that cause them concern

    Consultative Working Group – funding for an expanded Consultative Working Group. The Group will consider the broad range of cyber-safety issues and advise the Government, to ensure properly developed and targeted policy initiatives

    Youth Advisory Group – funding for a Youth Advisory Group which will provide advice to the Consultative Working Group on cyber-safety issues from a young person’s perspective, and

    Reseach – funding for ongoing research into the changing digital environment to identify issues and target future policy and funding.

    These initiative will tackle the issue of cyber-safety from a number of directions to help clean up the online environment and protect Australian children from the dangers of the internet now and into the future. This approach recognises that there is no single solution to ensure children can access the internet safely.

    A key part of the Government’s plan to make the internet a safer place for children is the introduction of ISP level filtering. Filtering would cover illegal and prohibited content using an expanded ACMA blacklist of prohibited sites, which includes images of the sexual abuse of children.

    Consideration is being given to more sophisticated filtering techniques for those families who wish to exclude other online content

    The Government’s ISP filtering policy is being developed through an informed and considered approach, including an ACMA laboratory trial, extensive industry consultation, and close examination of overseas models to assess their suitability for Australia. A real world ‘live’ pilot involving ISPs and their customers will follow the laboratory trial.

    The Government is committed to working closely with the industry to address any concerns, including costs and internet speeds. These concerns will be carefully considered during the pilot and will inform the Government’s cyber-safety policy.

    Thank you for bringing your concerns to the Minister’s attention. I trust this information will be of assistance

    [Signature Of Staff Member]

    *All errors are problems with my transcription.

  17. @dero … ah, I got the letter as an attachment PDF via email.

    It seems the government is now either –

    a) More Computer Savvy
    b) More Environment Friendly
    c) More Lazy

    Which option do you think is correct ;)

  18. @rebelrob

    Well, in their defence, I did send them a physical letter (as I figured I’d be more likely to see a response that way) so they replied in kind.

    And, so I don’t sound too kind to them, note that I received no response at all from my local (ALP) member of Parliament, only a response from Senator Conroy’s office.

    (But I’d also lean towards option (c))

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