Friday, June 18, 2010

What Australia and North Korea have in common

The comments below are a well-justified view from America. Note however the two articles following the one below. One shows that the internet filtering scheme looks dead while the second covers an even greater threat to free speech and individual liberty from the same Leftist government

The concept of government-backed web censorship is usually associated with nations where human rights and freedom of speech are routinely curtailed. But if Canberra's plans for a mandatory Internet filter go ahead, Australia may soon become the first Western democracy to join the ranks of Iran, China and a handful of other nations where access to the Internet is restricted by the state.

Plans for a mandatory Internet filter have been a long-term subject of controversy since they were first announced by Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, in May 2008 as part of an $106 million "cybersafety plan." The plan's stated purpose is to protect children when they go online by preventing them from stumbling on illegal material like child pornography. To do this, Conroy's Ministry has recommended blacking out about 10,000 websites deemed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to be so offensive that they are categorized as 'RC,' or Refused Classification.

The government won't reveal an official list of the URLs on the current blacklist, but Conroy's office says it includes sites containing child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act. "Under Australia's existing [laws] this material is not available in news agencies, it is not on library shelves, you cannot watch it on a DVD or at the cinema and it is not shown on television," Conroy's office e-mailed in a statement. But in March 2009, when a 2,395-site blacklist was leaked to Wikileaks, an online clearinghouse for anonymous submissions, it seemed confusingly broad, containing, among others, the websites of a dentist from Queensland, a pet-care facility in Queensland, and a site belonging to a school cafeteria consultant.

At the time, Conroy told the Sydney Morning Herald that any Australians involved in the leak could face criminal charges. "No one interested in cyber safety would condone the leaking of this list," he said.

Since then, criticism of the proposed Internet filter has escalated. "Nobody likes it," says Scott Ludlam, a senator from the Australian Greens Party. "Everyone from the communications industry to child protection rights and online civil liberties groups think this idea is deeply flawed." Throughout 2009 GetUp!, an internet-based political activism organization, launched an advertising campaign to raise public awareness about the government's proposal. (That July, the advertisement the group made was banned from screenings on Qantas domestic flights into Canberra.) In February, Anonymous, a community of Internet users, which include hackers, shut down the Australian Parliament's web site in their second attack against the filter, which they called "Operation: Titstorm" - a reference to the sexual content that the filter will be blocking.

Save the Children has questioned the efficacy of the filter in protecting children, and in March, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders listed Australia as a country that's "under surveillance" in its annual "Internet Enemies" report, which rounds up the "worst violators of freedom of expression on the Net."

But the most high-profile criticism of the filter has so far been from net giants Google and Yahoo. In March, Google wrote to the Australian government with concerns that the scope of the filter was too wide. The search engine also warned it may slow down search speed. "Filtering may give a false sense of security to parents, it could damage Australia's international reputation, and it can be easily circumvented," the California company wrote in a submission to Conroy's Department of Broadband Communications and Digital Economy.

On June 6, the Australian government launched a police investigation into the activities of Google in Australia, accusing the company of collecting private information while taking photographs for their Street View Service, which offers a panoramic view of any catalogued street. In comments that he has denied were spurred by Google's complaints about his cybersafety program, Conroy has called Google's privacy policy "creepy," and described their collecting of unsecured private information as "the biggest single breach of privacy in history." Google has admitted to accidentally collecting fragments of data from unsecured wi-fi networks in its global operations. (See pictures of life at Google.)

Indeed, only a cluster of Christian groups and child safety advocates have come out as supporting the filter. In a June 5 poll conducted on the web site of the Sydney Morning Herald, 99% of the 88,645 people who responded to the survey said they were against the Internet filter. Nevertheless, Conroy told the Sun-Herald in May that the policy "will be going ahead." He also accused groups like GetUp! of deliberately misleading the public. 'We are still consulting on the final details of the scheme. But this policy has been approved by 85% of Australian internet service providers, who have said they would welcome the filter, including Telstra, Optus, iPrimus and iinet." Iinet have since denied that it ever approved the scheme.

Many say the biggest problem with the plan is that it simply won't work. "I don¹t see the point of blocking a site that no one would have come across, and making the criminals aware of the fact they are being watched. I am much more interested in seeing the Australian Federal Police work with international law enforcement agencies in tracking the site," Ludham of the Greens Party says. Jarrod Trevathan, a technology lecturer and researcher at James Cook University, agrees. "Once people know their site is being blocked they will just open up another URL, and then the filter will have to block that URL. Eventually the blocked list will contain countless URLs which will drastically slow down the speed of the Internet." In May, ABC reported Conroy might consider, as part of his program, allowing child pornography websites to be temporarily left online to catch people maintaining or using them.

Still, it's hard to see why the government is pressing ahead with a scheme that, in the view of many, will do more harm than good. "It's like trying to ban burglaries by banning pictures of crowbars," says Geordie Guy, vice chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia, a non-profit national organization that has been vehemently opposed to the filter since it's conception. "You stop burglaries the same way you stop pedophilia - by catching the perpetrators. If the government closes these websites than the [Australian Federal Police] will find it harder to track the real criminals."


Net filter scheme 'shelved until after election'

Another stupid and unpopular policy bites the dust

The internet censorship policy has joined the government's list of "politically toxic subjects" and will almost certainly be shelved until after the federal election, Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam says.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - already facing a voter backlash over several perceived policy failures - is expected to call the election before the end of the year and the feeling of many in Canberra is that next week will be the last sitting week of Parliament.

Parliament is not due to sit again until August 24, leaving little time to introduce the legislation and have it debated and passed in time for the election.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has said he expects legislation to enable his internet filtering policy, which will block a secret blacklist of "refused classification" (RC) websites for all Australians, to be tabled in the second half of the year.

He has said delays have been due to issues working out transparency and accountability measures.

Senator Ludlam said in a phone interview that these issues were only part of the reason for the delay, saying the policy was now "on the list of politically toxic subjects that you don't in your right mind run during an election campaign".

Senator Conroy's spokeswoman has repeatedly refused to deny claims that the legislation would be shelved until after the election, saying only that she did not yet know when the election would be.

The scheme has attracted immense opposition from Senator Conroy's political opponents, the internet industry including several ISPs, Yahoo and Google, academics, lobby groups, some childrens' welfare groups including Save The Children, the US government, Reporters Without Borders and even Labor MPs.

The opposition has failed to state a definitive position on the matter since Tony Abbott took over as Opposition Leader, and his communications spokesman, Tony Smith, has refused to comment despite several requests from this website.

However, it is likely the legislation would not be passed even if it was introduced in the near future, as the Greens are committed to opposing it and several Opposition heavyweights, including Joe Hockey, have criticised the net filtering policy in speeches.

"The industry are telling them that what they are intending to do is formidably difficult - the government won't be able to draft a bill saying 'OK ISPs, you go and make this happen', because the ISPs are pushing back telling the government 'No, you tell us how you think you can make it work,'" Senator Ludlam said.

"I don't believe he will be able to get the chamber time from his colleagues [before the election] unless he's fairly sure that he's going to be able to pass it; the government at the moment don't have time to burn a couple of days of chamber time only to have it voted down.

Senator Ludlam is on the newly formed cyber-safety committee but, in the round-table meetings, "nobody brought it [the filters] up because they're dealing with issues that are front and centre as far as child safety is concerned and the filter won't help them".

One of the main issues raised by critics of the filter is that it would impose mandatory internet censorship on all Australians and would inevitably catch content many regard as innocuous. Leaked versions of the blacklist have seen a Queensland dentist, pet-care facility and school cafeteria consultancy caught up among the child porn and sexual abuse sites.

Senator Conroy argues he is just porting censorship models applied to other mediums over to the internet but the key difference with offline mediums is that citizens know what is being blocked and why. Prominent critics feel the current policy will be the thin end of the wedge, with little stopping successive governments from expanding the scope of the filters.

Labor Senator Kate Lundy has been pushing Senator Conroy to scrap the mandatory aspect of the scheme and make it opt-in. She wrote in a blog post this month that she was working to change the policy "to better achieve the policy goals of protecting children through empowering and educating parents".

She is pushing for two key amendments:

1. Protect in legislation the availability of an unfiltered, open internet service.

2. Require all internet subscribers to make an active choice as to whether they want an unfiltered, RC filtered or additionally filtered internet service (with the latter being personally customisable at any time).

Senator Lundy said although she originally discussed making the filters opt-out, "it has become clear that the community has a preference for [an] opt-in approach, rather than an opt-out compromise".

Today, Senator Lundy said: "I have received a lot of support and constructive feedback both publicly and privately about the amendments I am proposing to this policy, and I look forward to presenting the federal Labor caucus with a constructive alternative approach that upholds the principles of open government, net neutrality, and empowers parents to take responsibility for the cybersafety of children in their care."

The filtering policy has attracted international criticism and ridicule, most recently in Time magazine, which covered the policy in detail and wrote: "Australia may soon become the first Western democracy to join the ranks of Iran, China and a handful of other nations where access to the internet is restricted by the state."

It has also been the subject of several spoof videos, including one dubbed "censordyne", created by the online activist group GetUp!. Much to the group's dismay, it was banned from being shown as an ad on domestic Qantas flights into Canberra, although it got a good run online.


Internet freedom in 2010 looks like 1984

Long story short, the Rudd government is crafting an Orwellian scheme that may well require Australian ISPs to log and retain details of all your online communications and Web browsing activity. The Attorney-General Robert McClelland – not one of the brightest stars in the firmament of federal cabinet – denied this week that "browsing histories would be stored", saying the government was only seeking to identify "parties to a communication", such as senders and receivers of emails and VoIP calls.

Even this limited scheme would be considered by most Australians to be entirely unacceptable, but because the government has imposed secrecy provisions on all the parties with which it is negotiating in this matter, the process remains completely opaque and we are being asked to agree to the imposition of a generalised surveillance regime with nothing but the vaguest reassurances about its scope, intent and the potential hazards of abuse, misuse, maladministration and outright oppression. (Well, actually, we're not being asked at all. It's just happening).

There is an excellent article by Fairfax's tech writer Asher Moses here, which you should read.

It makes clear the very real fears of the real people in the real telecommunications sector that something quite profoundly wrong and loathsome is being planned. It is a scheme on par with any number of other Rudd government initiatives - obsessed with image management and controlling activities over which it should rightly have no control.

It is more serious by an order of magnitude than Conroy's amateur hour efforts with the net filter and arguably more aggressive in its collection activities than the huge, but little known datamatching programs which run, day in, day out, without most people's knowledge.

Indeed, today's revelation that Rudd intends to link the information gathered from monitoring your internet activities to identifiers such as your passport number open up the real possibility of mashing together all of the personal information available in your data matching matrix to (your income, your tax history, you bank account details, your medical records for starters) to your online life - your tweets, your Facebook account, your email, your Chatroueltte history, your 4square tracking data, your blog entries, the link you clicked not realising it was taking you to a snuff porn site, the link you clicked knowing it was taking you to a celebrity porn site, the comments you leave here today, all of it.

That's why today's column is written without jokes or even sarcasm.


Kevin Rudd's health reform plan still on drawing board

Yet another failed initiative from the hot air man

KEVIN Rudd's $50 billion hospitals reform plan faces further changes and is unlikely to be debated in Parliament before the Federal election, sparking Opposition claims that the biggest rewrite of the national health system since Medicare is in disarray.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon yesterday conceded the Government faced "an enormously complex implementation strategy" and might have to make changes to its reforms as it fleshed out the detail of the policy.

But Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said it was "clear that the Government hasn't yet sorted out the detail" and was in disarray on health, The Australian reports.

The health plan, which will see the Commonwealth take 60 per cent funding control for hospitals in return for a 30 per cent GST clawback, is at the heart of Labor's reform agenda as it heads towards an election within months.

Ms Roxon also signalled the government would move to defuse its damaging health row with Western Australia - which has refused to sign the deal and to hand over 30 per cent of its GST - by directly injecting more than $350 million into the state's health system if the Barnett Government continued to refuse to sign on before July 1.

"If the Western Australian Government does not sign, we are already considering options for how we could spend that money in Western Australia so that it benefits the West Australian community," Ms Roxon said.

She said the Government was considering direct payments to hospitals or providing funds to the "private or non-government sector". The money, part of $650m in extra funds, had been earmarked to boost emergency departments, sub-acute care and elective surgery.

But West Australian Premier Colin Barnett dismissed Ms Roxon's plan, saying the state would still receive the money because it owned and ran the hospitals.

Mr Barnett stressed WA would still not sign up to the health plan and hand over more GST revenue when it already received only 68c in the dollar back while Queensland, NSW and Victoria received 90c or more back.


Behind Closed Doors, Warmist Scientists Ponder Credibility Crisis, New PR Strategy

The only strategy they have is to say "trust us", which is a bit of a laugh in view of their compulsive secrecy about their data and the "adjustments" they make to it

Scientists and academics from some of Australia's top national institutions met in Sydney today to discuss how to improve public awareness of the science behind climate change. [Way to go! If they manage that NOBODY will believe in global warming! What will people say when they find that it is all based on very shaky guesswork?]

Representatives of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Bureau of Meteorology want to develop a "national communication charter" to win back public support for action on climate change.

The Australian government postponed its carbon trading scheme earlier this year until 2013 citing a lack of public and political support for reducing carbon emissions.

A number of recent polls have suggested that controversy over the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change data on Himalayan glaciers and the University of East Anglia leaked emails debacle have damaged public perception of climate science.

One poll by the Lowy Institute for International Policy showed that the number of Australians who wanted action on climate change immediately had dropped from 68 per cent in 2006 to 46 per cent this year.

Australia's chief scientist Penny Sackett addressed the conference, which was closed to the public.

Cathy Foley, president of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, told the Melbourne Age that scientists wanted Australians to have better access to the latest climate change evidence.

"We want... the public and parliamentarians who are making decisions on what we have to do to manage or deal with climate change actually understand what the science is and are able to cut through the noise that's been coming about," she said.

Foley said a well organised and well funded movement of climate sceptics had increasingly captured the public's attention. "We are concerned the debate around climate change has become a left-wing versus right-wing debate, or a kind of religious argument, when it should really be about the strength of the scientific evidence," she added.

In March, the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology published a snap shot report on climate change showing Australia had warmed significantly in the past 50 years and warning that "climate change is real".

The government committed AU$30m (US$25.6m) for a national campaign to educate the public on climate change in the budget last month, and one of the aims of today's meeting was to develop a strategy to advise officials on how best to spend the money.


1 comment:

Paul said...

"Foley said a well organised and well funded movement of climate sceptics had increasingly captured the public's attention. "We are concerned the debate around climate change has become a left-wing versus right-wing debate, or a kind of religious argument, when it should really be about the strength of the scientific evidence," she added."

Indeed it should....indeed it should.