The Australian government is trying to get more powers to snoop on Internet users. Mark Newton, a network engineer at a large Australian ISP, has attacked, angrily, these plans at New Matilda. He points out the dishonest way law enforcement keeps demanding new powers, the threats to civil liberties, the cost to telcos (and thus their customers), of keeping 2 years’ worth of messages for *every single subscriber*, and the dangerous temptation to steal or leak such valuable information on a large scale.
He’s of course correct on every one of these points. But there’s something missing – it’s rarely mentioned when people talk online about how to deal with these dangerous planned powers. Newton’s final paragraph says:
Before data retention proposals are taken seriously, the law enforcement community should be required to explain, in detail and in public, why the existing measures they’ve demanded every other year since 2001 are insufficient.
which means he’s demanding greater oversight. And that’s where we get to a problem. For a start, we probably won’t get much more oversight except for what Greens Senator Scott Ludlam can extract from public servants in Senate committees. Ludlam does good work on this issue, but he’s not going to have the resources to carry out a wide-ranging investigation of the entire proposal. But even if he had those resources, there’s still a deeper problem: Relying on the government to play by the rules is a terrible idea, and one that leaves us complacent.
There’s a better approach – using the tools that exist, right now, to defend our privacy. There’s a very useful interview with a man who had his Twitter account information seized by the US government at n+1 magazine. The details of the legal procedures used to snoop only apply to the US, but there’s also an explanation of some of the ways we can protect ourselves – sometimes as simple as not taking a mobile phone with you to a highly confidential meeting, because cellphones are “tracking devices that make phone calls”.
We’re almost at the stage where we can use easily-available, simple-to-explain technology to defend our privacy. Small computers the size of a large power plug are already available – they plug into a wall socket and cost a few dollars a year to run. FreedomBox is a project to develop and sell such “plug servers” pre-configured to protect users privacy. Because of the low power cost they can remain on all the time, meaning that instead of keeping all our personal information on Stalkbook’s computers, we’ll use a new type of social network where WE control our private info on OUR computers, and people we give permission to will be able to see it, “like” it, comment on it and so on. Diaspora has been an attempt to do this, but it is difficult to install and does not work very well yet.
We need to swing the Australian debate around to “How can we protect our privacy and take control of our personal information?”, instead of “How can we get the government to respect civil liberties?”. One simple way is to tell people about the n+1 article – it’s good at explaining some of the risks and trade-offs of different types of communication. Surveillance Self-Defence is a great wrap up of the risks and our defence options in some detail at the US Electronic Frontier Foundation website. I hope to write some articles later in the year about my experience minimising my contact with Google – I stopped using my Gmail account and set up my own email server, taking personal control of my email and stretching my computer knowledge while I did it.
Of course, if the government REALLY wants to snoop they’ll be able to. But we have the power to make it much harder for them to do it. Let’s start talking about this and get Australians realising the answer to snooping by our over-reaching, busy-body government is to take power into our own hands.
Thanks to the Australian technology blog Delimiter for pointing me to Newton’s article.
Venezuela’s outgoing parliament has passed laws that will punish ISPs that allow anything that Hugo Chavez does not like.
Under the new rules, providers of online contents and internet portals could be fined if images or messages appearing on their sites “disrespect public authorities, incite or promote hatred or create anxiety in the citizenry or alter public order”.
The measure was passed just days after parliament voted to give President Chavez special powers to pass laws by decree for 18 months.
BTW Chavez’s more green-minded sympathizers might like to read about his plans to build a nuclear power plant with Russian help.
Clive Hamilton, liar.
Australia’s Internet censorship plans featured on tonight’s episode of Four Corners. The delightful Clive Hamilton, proud father of Australia’s Internet censorship scheme, was there bravely guarding the morals of our country.
Hamilton kindly let the nation know he is definitely opposed to bestiality and coprophilia, but he’s not quite so big on the virtue of telling the truth.
Hamilton said on Four Corners:
We commissioned a poll which showed that parents of teenage children are extremely concerned about their children’s access to porn on the Internet and when we asked them explicitly whether they would support a mandatory filter on Internet service providers to prevent extreme and violent pornography coming into the home an astonishing 93 per cent said yes they would support that.
Wow. 93% support compulsory Internet censorship. Hamilton did the numbers, so it must be true, right?
According to the Australia Institute, Hamilton’s own think tank that carried out the poll he mentioned, respondents to the poll weren’t asked about “mandatory filters” at all. The Australia Institute 2003 poll on net censorship (pdf file) says (p23) :
Finally, parents were asked about their support for the two new strategies proposed in this paper to protect children from Internet pornography, that is, mandatory blocking of pornography by ISPs and educating children on the risks of pornography. They were first asked the following:
Would you support a system which automatically filtered out Internet pornography going into homes unless adult users asked otherwise?
So parents weren’t asked if they supported compulsory censorship at all! They were asked if they supported optional censorship. Hamilton has been caught out in a pure and simple lie.
How can we take anything else he says about Internet censorship seriously?
Note the slippery wording of the report. It says parents were asked about “mandatory blocking”, but the question quoted in the poll only talks about optional censorship.
The other fascinating thing about the program was the “town hall” meetings about how to get around Internet censorship, apparently linked in some way to Exit International, the pro-voluntary-euthanasia organisation. This seems like an excellent way to take opposition to Government Internet censorship plans off the Net and into broader society.
Via ZDNet News Editor Renai LeMay comes news that the Australian Government has received a report of its trial of systems to censor the Internet. Amusingly, as I type, the Government’s website announcing the report is down, presumably because of the amount of people visiting
The crucial finding is:
Filtering Refused Classification (RC) content
The pilot demonstrated that ISPs can effectively filter a list of URLs such as the ACMA blacklist with a very high degree of accuracy and a negligible impact on internet speed.
While it’s possible for technical people to argue about whether this is true or not, the political reality is that it will give the Government a good technical argument to go ahead with its plans to censor the internet. Therefore the plan will need to be defeated on political grounds.
At the moment, the Australian Greens and the Liberal/National Coalition still oppose the censorship plan, despite the Greens recently choosing to run Clive Hamilton, the moral architect of the censorship plan, as their candidate in the recent Higgins by-election. If this remains the same, it is likely that the plan will fail in the Senate as the Government is unlikely to ever have enough votes to pass the censorship plan without the support of one of those groups.
After the discussions we had here a year or so ago about this issue, I think we need to spread the idea that Australians need to take responsibility for their own viewing habits and not expect the Government to nanny them, and we need “maximum freedom for the maximum amount of people”. There was also a good discussion about laying a political cost on the Government by painting THEM as the creepy weird ones who are obsessed with people looking at nude pictures of children.
A Denial of Service attack appeared to take down Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s website and other official sites, for a few minutes tonight at around 7.20PM AEST.
The attack was announced on the website http://www.09-09-2009.org using the name of Anonymous, the loose disorganisation of Internet users which has previously acted against the Church of Scientology.
There has been some criticism of this tactic, notably by Michael Meloni at the “Somebody Think of the Children” website. Stephen Conroy, the Minister with the political job of selling the censorship plan, has used his favourite lie – that the censorship will only affect things that are already illegal, and Meloni takes this down very well.
Meloni’s argument against the illegal attacks is that they “will do nothing to help the fight against net censorship” and that “…such methods and demands suggest little understanding of how political policy is changed in Australia. Acts like this have the potential to unravel the hard work already done by many to try and end this policy”.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority threatened the host after a discussion thread on Whirlpool linked to an anti-abortion site banned by ACMA.
Freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society and there has never been any suggestion that the Australian Government would seek to block political content.
On Saturday January 10th, I went to a meeting of the Brisbane branch of the Digital Liberty Coalition, and came away with the job of drafting a leaflet for the next small public protest, planned for Australia Day.
The leaflet needs to reflect the strategy of the anti-censorship campaign. After the December 13th 2008 rallies in six capital cities, plus the one in Hobart a week later, some very useful debate about strategy and tactics cropped up. I want this article to bring that debate to as wide an audience as possible, and I want to use that debate to draft the leaflet. There are several different possible strategies, and we need to know what people think is the most effective one.
Using the terms “Clean Feed” and “filtering” instead of “censorship”
I brought up this topic at the meeting last night, after this comment about the December 13th 2008 rally in Melbourne:
Several speakers and posters referred to internet “filtering”.
That, like the “no cleanfeed” campaign name, reflects success of the enemy’s slick marketing strategy which has involved spending millions to spread the concept of “internet safety” – and similar doublespeak.
Other speakers did not mention filtering and spoke only of “censorship”. I suspect the organizers understand the point, and are trying to make the shift, but have not yet grasped the fact that making the shift itself requires open discussion/debate of the difference at rallies – ie take the opportunity of those speakers or posters referring to filtering to explain the purpose of a policy of never referring to filters, but only to censorship.
Also, such policies need to be debated at organizing meetings and formally adopted, so people fully understand (and can change) the tactics.
The Government’s tactics are based on getting people to assume that the Internet is dangerous and dirty, and that people need to Government to clean it up for them. I agree with the argument that using words like “clean feed” and “filter” put us on the back foot. I think that use of those words should be discouraged by people campaigning against the Government’s censorship plans.
I’ve done a round-up of the Brisbane anti-Internet-censorship rally, which you can read if you click here. This week I’m going to trawl through the Internet and publish similar round-ups for each city’s rally. I’ll edit this post with links to each round-up. If anyone has any pictures, videos, articles etc they think need to be in the round-ups, please leave a comment here.
I’m putting links in each round-up to some of the comments already on this site, and to keza’s article on putting the blame for sexualising children squarely on Rudd, Hamilton etc, to spark some debate among anti-censorship people.
Collage of pics from the Adelaide Against Internet Censorship rally:
Who’s really molesting and “sexualising” our children???? Arthur’s comment in the Spiked special on Oz internet censorship thread resonated with me. For some years, I’ve been repelled by the increasing spread of the idea that we should keep our children covered up. I’m almost beginning to wonder how long it will be before someone introduces the idea of a children’s burka! When my kids were young, they could run naked on the beach. Nowadays, that’s supposedly dangerous.
Six months ago, police raided Bill Henson’s photography exhibition and took it down because it displayed photos of naked kids. Rudd was in full support , maintaining that the photos were “revolting” and took away children’s “innocence”.
Excuse me!! Who’s sexualising children here? Who’s spreading the idea that naked children are sexually titillating? Are people like Rudd and Hamilton (who agreed that the exhibition shoud be taken down) titillated by naked children??? What’s going on?
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keza: Liberal Tyranny on the World Wide Web ( revised version of my article about Clive Hamilton)
On December 13th 2008, there will be rallies in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth to protest against the Government’s plans to censor the Internet in Australia. This video has all the details and also some advice about what to say when you’re talking to people who are worried about what kids might see online. Please spread this video and news about the rally far and wide.
The rally itself is on Saturday December 13 at Brisbane Square, George St, at 11am. Brisbane Square is right opposite the end of the Queen Street Mall, just across George St.
For more info on rally planning go to the forums at http://www.nocensorship.info/