Monday, 23 March 2009

Senator Conroy - The Ignorant

Following on from a previous post about Internet Censorship and Government bungling...

From the SMH :
The Federal Government will begin trawling blog sites as part of a new media monitoring strategy, with official documents singling out a website critical of the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy.

Tender documents issued by the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy reveal it is looking for a "monitoring service for print and electronic media".
Dear Senator Conroy: You're an ignorant buffoon, who has made himself, and this country, a laughing-stock around the world.

Is that critical enough to gain your attention? I toned it down from what I really feel, you see. Unlike some.

So what led me to this opinion that if brains were dynamite, you couldn't blow up a paper bag? From the SMH again:
The Australian communications regulator says it will fine people who hyperlink to sites on its blacklist, which has been further expanded to include several pages on the anonymous whistleblower site Wikileaks.

Wikileaks was added to the blacklist for publishing a leaked document containing Denmark's list of banned websites.

The move by the Australian Communications and Media Authority comes after it threatened the host of online broadband discussion forum Whirlpool last week with a $11,000-a-day fine over a link published in its forum to another page blacklisted by ACMA - an anti-abortion website.

ACMA's blacklist does not have a significant impact on web browsing by Australians today but sites contained on it will be blocked for everyone if the Federal Government implements its mandatory internet filtering censorship scheme.

But even without the mandatory censorship scheme, as is evident in the Whirlpool case, ACMA can force sites hosted in Australia to remove "prohibited" pages and even links to prohibited pages.
So to summarise: www.nastysite.com gets banned, and for good reason. But www.freespeech.org that says "www.nastysite.com is banned" is also banned, because it links to a banned site. Which means that www.bigOzblog.com.au, that often deals with Freedom of Speech issues, and often links to www.freespeech.org gets banned. Which means that the Australian National Library, which has snapshots of www.bigOzblog.au gets banned. Which means that all Australian Government sites that link to the Australian National Library get banned.....

Of course this is only hypothetical, right? The only purpose of this blacklist is to stop child pornography, not sites the Government finds inconvenient, right?

From The Australian:
On March 10, ACMA issued Sydney web hosting company Bulletproof Networks with an "interim link-deletion notice" for allowing its customer, the Whirlpool internet community website, to post the link to an anti-abortion web page blacklisted by the regulator.

Whirlpool is a popular website with around 276,000 members who regularly provide comments on the internet and broadband in Australia.

The interim notice, obtained by The Australian, stated that on February 19, ACMA received information that a Whirlpool forums page "may contain links to other websites that may contain 'prohibited content' or 'potentially prohibited content'".

According to the notice, ACMA determined that end-users in Australia could access the content on the blacklisted web page.

ACMA gave Bulletproof around 24 hours to act.
And here is the Department's e-mail:
Subject: Complaint Reference: 2009000009/ ACMA-691604278
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2009 15:45:00 +1100
From: online@acma.gov.au

Complaint Reference: 2009000009/ ACMA-691604278

I refer to the complaint that you lodged with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) on 5th January 2009 about certain content made available at:

http://www.abortiontv.com/Pics/AbortionPictures6.htm

Following investigation of your complaint, ACMA is satisfied that the internet content is hosted outside Australia, and that the content is prohibited or potential prohibited content.

The Internet Industry Association (IIA) has a code of practice (http://www.iia.net.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=415&Itemid=33) for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) which, among other things, set out arrangements for dealing with such content. In accordance with the code, ACMA has notified the above content to the makers of IIA approved filters, for their attention and appropriate action. The code requires ISPs to make available to customers an IIA approved filter.

Information about ACMA’s role in regulating online content (including internet and mobile content), including what is prohibited or potentially prohibited content is available at ACMA’s website at www.acma.gov.au/hotline

Thank you for bringing this matter to ACMA’s attention.
Oops, looks like that by quoting an official Government Communication, I have published a banned link!!! Quelle Horreur!!

But wait, it makes no difference. You see:
  1. My site links to Instapundit, the Great-Grand-daddy of Blogs.
  2. Instapundit links to the Volokh Conspiracy, a law blog.
  3. The Volokh Conspiracy links to its Archives for 15 to 21 of March 2009.
  4. And those archives contain the post Australia Bans Internet Access to Web Pages with Pictures of Aborted Fetuses?.
  5. And that post contains the offending URL, http://www.abortiontv.com/Pics/AbortionPictures6.htm. Oops, I did it again!
What is more, the Australian National Library's saved snapshot of my site contains the link to Instapundit on it, and thus that is tainted too. As are all pages referring to that site...

Such consequences would be obvious to anyone with even the faintest clue as to how the Internet works.

Oh, but it gets worse... from the ABC:
Broadband and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says a list claiming to be the communication regulator's blacklist for a proposed internet filtering system is not the real blacklist.

He has condemned Wikileaks, the website that published the list, as "grossly irresponsible".

This morning Wikileaks published what it says is the Australian Communication and Media Authority's (ACMA) blacklist of banned websites that is being used in trials of a proposed mandatory internet filtering system.

The filter is designed to protect children from accessing child pornography and other criminal content.

As well as child pornography, the published list of 2,395 pages also includes online gambling sites, YouTube links, regular porn and fetish sites, and websites of a tour operator, Queensland boarding kennel and a Queensland dentist. It also includes the Wikileaks website.

"The leak and publication of prohibited URLs is grossly irresponsible. It undermines efforts to improve cyber-safety and create a safe online environment for children," Senator Conroy said.

"Under existing laws the ACMA blacklist includes URLs relating to child sexual abuse, rape, incest, bestiality, sexual violence and detailed instruction in crime.

"I am aware of reports that a list of URLs has been placed on a website. This is not the ACMA blacklist."

He says the published list purports to be current at August 6 2008 and apparently contains approximately 2,400 URLs, whereas the ACMA blacklist for the same date contained 1,061 URLs.

"There are some common URLs to those on the ACMA blacklist. However, ACMA advises that there are URLs on the published list that have never been the subject of a complaint or ACMA investigation, and have never been included on the ACMA blacklist," he said.

"ACMA is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution."
So the published blacklist is incorrect. But "any Australian involved in making this content publioly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution." One assumes he means sites on the real blacklist. But we're not allowed to know what they are!

As for the dentist? Yes, that one was on the Blacklist. The dentist didn't know that until he asked. (By the way, the site is that of Dental Distinction .. Oops I did it again!). From the Courier-Mail :
The websites of a Queensland dentist, a tuckshop convener and a kennel operator have been included on a secret "blacklist" of sites to be banned by Australia's communications watchdog.

The seemingly innocuous websites were among a leaked list of 2300 websites the Australian Communications and Media Authority was planning to ban to protect children from graphic pornography and violence.

Several Queensland businesses yesterday expressed dismay at their inclusion on the Government's mandatory internet content filter.

Dental Distinction practice manager Kelly Wilson said the business had never been contacted by the ACMA and she was struggling to understand why the website appeared on the list.

"I am quite shocked and slightly amused that our name is on it," Ms Wilson said.

She said the practice's website had been hacked once, redirecting visitors to a website that sold sex enhancement products, but the problem had been fixed 18 months ago.

"People were automatically redirected to this website in the US that sold things like Viagra and sex toys," she said.

"That's the only thing I can think of as to why we're on it."

As well as the dental practice, a website for Maroochy Boarding Kennels and a Brisbane tuckshop convener were named.
You see, that's the problem: we don't know what's on the Blacklist, so we don't know whether we're contravening the law or not, nor whether the site we're making has been placed on it or not, nor for what reason. That's all Secret.

And that's all BS, Senator Conway. You've beclowned yourself, both by accidentally including dentists on the list, and openly and brazenly including a site like Wikileaks.

From Wired:
The Australian Communications and Media Authority added two Wikileaks pages to its censorship list: one for the Danish government's secret index of banned child porn sites as well as Wikileaks' press release about how the index was used and why the site was publishing it.
And the Grauniad :
Wired also carried a report of the ban, saying ACMA added two Wikileaks pages to its censorship list, which is estimated to hold more than a thousand URLs, and is distributed to Australian ISPs, which are required by law to make filters available to block illegal content. Australian websites that link to the pages, says the Register, face the threat of a A$11,000 (£5,200) fine.
Banning Kiddie porn sites is one thing, and one I approve of. But making the list of banned sites secret is unconscionable. Banning sites that publish incorrect lists, or lists from other countries, is ridiculous.

How could it get worse? From Computerworld:
Betfair's Twaits was unaware the TAB rival had been blacklisted when contacted by Computerworld, and said the watchdog had not contacted the company.

"We didn't know [about the ban]. We've been licensed to operate in Australia for three years and have never received a complaint or any allegation that Betfair locally or globally is not permitted to be used by Australians.

"The global Betfair site is used by Australians every day."

Under the Interactive Gambling Act, it is illegal for overseas companies to offer gambling services to Australians and Betfair blocks local customers from accessing its UK poker and casino products.

He said Betfair is probably the only company in the world that blocks its customers from accessing the overseas gambling services.

This law is not applicable to the Betfair.com site.

"I need to find out what the implications are and how we got on the list," Twaits said.

"I'm amazed that this has happened."
The various TABs are state and territory Government monopolies, that provide significant sums into the public purse. Nobbling competitors would be greatly in their interest.

Do I trust the Government under these circumstances? Senator Conroy, people who deal with IT issues aren't idiots. Unlike you.

Oh and some breaking news:
Breaking News: WikiLeaks has released a copy of what is alleged to be the current ACMA blacklist. This list is dated March 18 and includes 1170 URLs, including the now high-profile AbortionTV page and the Wikileaks page containing the Danish blacklist.

URLs belonging to Betfair, The Peaceful Pill Handbook, Redtube, AbbyWinters, IShotMyself, TheHun and xTube are present on the list.

I can also reveal that a URL I believed to be prohibited content and submitted to ACMA this year for further investigation is included on this list.

More to come.
Looks like they got an accurate list this time. I wonder from whom? The suspect list of IT people who would engage in some very serious civil disobedience is very long, probably half of all IT people in the country. Australians have never been known for being overly respectful of Governmental bullying and thuggery when it comes to censorship, and IT people tend to be more independant-minded than most.

Not me though. I didn't publish the URL of the Wikileaks site. Neither did I give instructions on how to find it. I'll give one webpage though that of Google, the de-facto standard search engine. Not that I expect Senator Conroy to know what that means, nor the consequences of banning it.

As for this site? This blog is hosted overseas, not in Australia. Not in their jurisdiction, though of course they could ban it. Better ban the image kept by the Australian National Library too, and of course the mirror on the wayback machine. Oh yes, and the proxy servers as well. And since the Government haven't informed me of what the actual banned list is, I can't be guilty of knowingly mentioning a site on it, can I? All I have to go by are newspaper and online magazine reports, and a list which Senator Conroy has stated is inaccurate. While I may guess that some of the sites might possibly be illegal, I can't know that they are. Because the list is Secret, isn't it?

Oh, and one more thing, Senator Conroy. The IT industry may well be totally co-operative, banning all sites on the list, all sites that link to those sites, all sites that link to those sites, and so forth. That won't be the complete Internet, just 99.99999% of it. For .gov.au domains as a trial run, first. And paying especial attention to access by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Any attempt by anyone there to access anything on the blacklist itself would be immediately forwarded to the Police so prosecution can be commenced.

It's called "working to rule". Twit.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can think of a site I'd like to see blacklisted...

DownUnder Mark said...

Thanks for this post it is what I was thinking on the train home tonight and when I read it I thought this explains how stupid this whole idea is.

I had a slightly different scenario and thought the best option was to help ACMA out with this ridiculous banning notion.

I thought why not help them out and if we all went to our favourite search engine and found links to any banned webpages, blogs, groups, facebook, etc. we could then lodge complaints for each URL we found.

If ACMA are serious then they would have to investigate all those pages.

But of course as you state it wouldn't take long till we had a few million urls to investigage.

Oh look I just solved the job crisis.

sumptos devil s advocate said...

DownUnder Mark,

Those "jobs" would be more productive if they dug up ditches and filled them back in.

Zoe Brain,

Whenever government officials purport to take away your freedoms "for the children," you know they're getting ready to start either something stupid or something evil. Y'all just should have stuck to prosecuting people who download child porn (though in my libertarian view, I am opposed to banning only the production thereof), and not gotten in the whole business of setting up a nationwide Internet filter that can be used for other purposes.

You see, the slippery slope argument is a fallacy, but someone making that argument does show what the government can do once it's granted another power. That's why you should never fall for the temptation of giving the government more powers, because of what it can do with them down the road.