Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A year is a long time

I started this blog to discuss the Government's digital economy efforts. That blog got rapidy overwhelmed by anti-filter campaigners.

At the same time a year ago there was still much cynicism about the NBN, as tenders had just been recived and Telstra excluded from the process.

In April the Government changed the agenda on the NBN, and in July they released their DE report.

This month the Government held its Realising Our Broadband Future conference to build on the both of these - the Digital Economy future directions meets the NBN. An interesting fact is that despite the forum attracting lots of public participation, I think there were only three comments that linked filtering to the agenda. Which perhaps goes to show that manufactured outrage is not a sustainable position.


Meanwhile the reactions to the policy have been many.

Catherine Lumby writing in The Punch has trotted out some of the old stuff, based on misunderstanding the policy. In particular she tries a fear campaign that safe sex messages would be filtered out - as if there are any safe sex sites that would be Refused Classification.

She also raises the bogey about the control of the list. Conroy has commenced a public consultation on how to ensure the accountability and transparency of this list.

GetUp! (who admitted that their campaign against the filter was just designed to raise money) told the ABC that there is something wrong with a "public complaints" mechanism because that's what previously banned things like Catcher in the Rye. I keep being confused by this argument - because the web sites Conroy wants to block would be prohibited from import in any other form.

In the same interview EFA questioned the efficacy of the policy, as did Stilgherrian and Bernard Keane at Crikey. But they all miss the point that no legal prohibition is ever one hundred percent effective, but that is no reason not to try.

The worst I saw was David Braue at ZDNet who wrote an entire article that bore no relatio to the policy as announced, only to the prejudices of those who have tried to wrap themselves in a libertarian and freedom flag and have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

Long time coming

OK so I've been quiet a while. In the meantime Stephen Conroy has completed his "filtering" trials and come out with a policy.

He seems to have addressed all the myths and fear mongering on the topic.

Most importantly the technical report showed that filtering a defined short list of adresses (URLs) can be achieved reasonably accurately without serious impact on network performance. On the subject of what to exclude he has announced that it will be limited to Refused Classification material, that is, imported online content will be subject to the same restrictions as imported content on paper or a disc. This is not creeping censorship, it is making the same rules apply everywhere.

The list is therefore not the same as the infamous ACMA "black list". It will be constructed using public complaints and international co-operation to identify the most egregious sites. What's more he has listened to concens about secret censorship and proposed a process of public scrutiny of the list.

Finally he has heard the concerns about the absence of an R18+ category for games and has commenced a process to seek to introduce that classification, and at the same time has stated that these games will be not included on the list of refused classification sites to be blocked.

In addition to the mandated filtering he has recognised that there are end-users who don't feel confidant in their ability to maintain their own filters. He will introduce a program to assist ISPs in offering an opt-in network based filter that goes beyond the mandated filter.

This looks like a sensible policy that goes no further than tries to apply the same rules to web content a are applied to other content. It is a policy based on testing of solutions and with appropriate puiblic safeguards. It is a policy that makes the fear-mongers in the internet community look somewhat foolish. As an example, how much of the discussion was about the blacklist and how it was constructed even after Conroy made it clear the policy would only apply to RC?

Will it work? Yes and no. It will stop people accessing certain sites through simple web browsing. It will not stop the the internet being used to "import" refused classification material. It is a proportionate response.

Do gun control laws stop death by gunshot? No, but they do severely limit it and make Australia a safer place.

Acknowledgement should be made of the contributions of Telstra, Optus, Primus and iiNet in working with the Government in developing this scheme. This is a refreshing change from an industry normally best noted for taking no responsibility for its products and making assumptions about the abilities of customers that are not conected to reality.