I wrote to Senator Conroy (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) and got a form letter reply. This basically ignored my objections and spent three pages explaining how wonderful the filter was going to be.
I have written again, so maybe this time I will get a sensible response.
2010 March 15
Senator Stephen Conroy
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Level 4, 4 Treasury Place
Melbourne Vic 3002
Thank you for your form letter response to my inquiry. I understand that you are very busy, with the skiing in Aspen
and other sporting events to attend, however your reply does not address the concerns that I raised.
In this letter you will find your errors reproduced, keeping them confined so that they can do no further damage to the
public discourse. My corrections with references will follow below.
I am aware that the proposal for ISP filtering has attracted some criticism from those, like yourself,
who are concerned that it will lead to censorship of the internet. However, the Australian
Government has no plans to stop adults from viewing material that is currently legal, if they wish to
view such material.
You are profoundly misinformed.
On October 20th 2008 under questioning from Senator Scott Ludlam in the Senate, Senator Stephen Conroy and his
advisors repeatedly asserted 1 that the blacklist which will be used by the government’s proposed censorship system
already exists, and is the ACMA “Prohibited Content” list.
In the Technical Testing Framework attached to the Expression of Interest for the government’s proposed
(and delayed) “live trials”, repeated reference is made to the ACMA Prohibited Content list as the URL list for
the mandatory “first tier” blacklist 2.
Reasonable readers may therefore conclude that the ACMA Prohibited Content list constitutes the list of material
which the government wishes to prevent adults from viewing.
You claim that the ACMA Prohibited Content list is a list of illegal material.
The legislation, on the other hand, does not. Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 3 defines “Prohibited
Content” in section 20, which reveals that it consists of material classified by the Classification Board as X18+, R18+,
and some commercial MA15+ audio and video content; and material which has been Refused Classification.
Under Commonwealth law, each and every one of those categories is legal for Australians to read and view, unless
and until a judicial finding is made to establish that specific content is child abuse material or child pornography
X18+ material is legal to sell in the ACT and NT and legal to purchase throughout Australia. R18+ material is
available for sale in shops and exhibited in public cinemas everywhere in Australia. MA15+ material is shown on
free-to-air television throughout Australia. Even RC material is legal for a private owner to possess everywhere except
Western Australia, and legal to read and view via the Internet everywhere except Western Australia and the Northern
Territory, unless it is specifically found to be child pornography/abuse/exploitation according to Commonwealth or
This makes your contention that the government “has no plans to stop adults from viewing material that is currently
legal” completely false. There is plenty of legal material on the ACMA Prohibited Content list, even though that is the
list of material that your own form letter says your party wishes to censor.
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;
The previous government’s final budget included a $51.8m budget increase for the AFP’s Online Child Sexual
Exploitation Team (OCSET), along with provision for 90 new staff by 2010.
The budget was in response to complaints by the AFP that OCSET was so resource-constrained that it was unable to
take on new cases, and was instead referring them to State police forces. The AFP’s team of specialist online child
abuse experts was unable to investigate online child abuse5.
After your Prime Minister’s “razor gang” had done their work, the Rudd Government’s first budget reduced the
coalition’s $51.8m allocation to $49m, and pushed the planned staff increases back a year to 2011 6.
I fail to understand how law enforcement budget cuts and staff delays can be trumpeted as a key feature of the ALP’s
cyber safety policy.
A key part of the Government’s plan to make the internet a safer place for children is the introduction of ISP
level filtering. The policy reflects our community’s growing belief that ISPs should take some responsibility
for enabling the blocking of illegal material on the internet. Filtering would cover illegal and prohibited
content using an expanded ACMA blacklist of prohibited sites, which includes images of the sexual abuse of
Please indicate where your estimate of “our community’s growing belief” came from. I can point to any number of
sources which suggest that my community has no such belief, as shown by their stupefied reaction to this repugnant
policy. In case you are out of touch with my community, a brief non-exhaustive list might be helpful:
* On Tuesday 6 January 2009 The Advertiser published an article 7 on the matter. The poll attached to that article
attained over 2500 responses in less than 24 hours, and 95% of them were against the government’s censorship
* Derryn Hinch received similar results when he polled his listeners on 29 October 2008 8: 82% against the
* Channel 7’s Sunrise programme polled their viewers 9: 80% against the government,
* The Opposition is against the policy 10,
* Senator Nick Xenophon is “not sympathetic to the Government’s proposal” 11,
* Senator Cory Bernardi opposes it 12,
* Derryn Hinch opposes it13,
* Holly Doel-Mackaway from Save the Children, the world’s largest children’s rights agency; and James
McDougal from the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre oppose it 14.
To the best of my knowledge, the groundswell of community support you refer to is completely fabricated, a manifest
falsehood propagated to a voter over your signature, consistent with Harvard University’s finding 15
that governments tend to overstate internet content problems in a cloud of “moral panic”.
An article16 on ABC’s web site last year asked, “Do you honestly believe that Australian parents are so uniquely
incompetent that we, unlike literally every other Western democracy on the planet, need to go down the ALP’s
proposed path to protect our own children? After spending 30 years proving that our nation can successfully raise
children in an environment of ubiquitous access to uncensored online services, are you able to explain how profoundly
Australian parents must have failed to justify this radical proposal?”
Or, to put it more succinctly: Why do you hate parents?
Consideration is being given to more sophisticated filtering techniques for those individual families who wish
to exclude additional online content in their own homes.
You announced your intention to proceed with this policy 17 during one of your first official engagements as Minister
in December 2007. You clearly hadn’t had time to examine the Australian internet industry before you made these
controversial statements, because if you had you would have seen that the industry had already provided “more
sophisticated filtering techniques” for families who want them, without imposing them on families who don’t, via the
Internet Industry Association’s (IIA) Family Friendly ISP 18 scheme.
This costs the taxpayer a grand total of $0 per annum, and solves all of the government’s stated problems.
The System Administrators’ Guild of Australia (SAGE-AU) has proposed a policy alternative 19 for the government
which would see funding provided to compliant ISPs to enable them to offer “filtered” services at prices equivalent to
regular services, following the observation that “filtered” ISPs tend to be slower and more expensive than their
competition. This funding would come from the $44.5m allocated by the government to its “clean feed” policy.
The government has given this sensible policy alternative short shrift by completely ignoring it, prompting SAGE-AU
to respond with an open letter 20 damning the government’s proposals on technical and public policy grounds.
The Government wants to ensure that Australian parents can access a ‘clean feed’ internet service. This will be informed by the technology adopted in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Canada where ISP filtering, predominantly of child pornography, has been successfully introduced without affecting internet performance to a noticeable level.
* UK: Optional system, currently under substantial controversy for making poor decisions about blacklisted content
and imposing sufficient performance and usability degradation upon Wikipedia to make it useless for most UK
citizens during the week of Dec 6 2008 21. The UK’s IWF is now in the humiliating position of having identified what
they claim is illegal child pornography, but knowingly and deliberately failing to blacklist it because doing so would
cause too much disruption to the UK internet. Meanwhile, publicity surrounding the fiasco attracted over ten million
viewers to the so-called “child pornography” on Wikipedia in one weekend.
* France: No government-mandated censorship system, although courts have ordered removals of nazi memorabilia
from eBay auctions.
* Sweden: Optional system22. Embroiled in substantial controversy last year when it was revealed that police were
lobbying to add BitTorrent trackers to their blacklist, in contravention of Swedish law.
* Norway: Optional DNS blacklisting system 23. Note that DNS blacklisting is inherently overbroad, destroying access
to entire sites due to one “bad” URL. Norwegian citizens can escape the resulting annoyances by choosing to not be
* Finland: Voluntary system. Came under fire in 2007 when it blocked the website of the World Wide Web
Consortium as child pornography by mistake, and in 2005 when an anti-censorship campaigner’s website was added
to the blacklist of censored sites after an activist reproduced a copy of the Government’s blacklist 24.
* Canada: Optional system 25. The FAQ website for the service specifically states that it’s a voluntary measure and that
individual ISPs may have a variety of reasons for not participating. 7 ISPs in all of Canada participate.
Your form letter is wrong about every single one of its examples. None of the countries used as examples have
mandatory government-controlled ISP censorship systems, and nor do any other Western democracies. Where filtering
exists at all, it invariably allows customers to choose whether or not they want to be censored. The only governments
which remove that choice are regimes which value totalitarian control more than freedom of speech, such as China,
Saudi Arabia and Iran.
It is clear that the ALP hopes Australians will believe there is some useful comparison to be made between the
countries it lists as examples and the proposals being formulated for Australia. There can be no useful comparison
until the Australian proposal recognizes that any systems implemented here must be optional, both for ISPs and end-
users — Just like in the UK, France, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Canada.
The Government’s ISP filtering policy is being developed through an informed and considered approach,
including industry consultation and close examination of overseas models to assess their suitability for
On 23 December 2008 Asher Moses from The Sydney Morning Herald reported, in a front-page story 26, that the
Minister had suppressed a report his own department had commissioned from the IIA which said that his mandatory
censorship scheme could not possibly work.
Is that the ALP’s “informed and considered approach” to “industry consultation”? Is it right for this government to
“consult” with industry then suppress inconvenient responses? Are you endorsing this approach by failing to speak out
ACMA recently completed an extensive laboratory trial of available ISP filtering technology. The trial looked
specifically at the effect of a range of filter products on network performance, effectiveness in identifying and
blocking illegal and inappropriate content, scope to filter non-web traffic, and the ability to customise the
filter to the requirements of different end-users.
The lab trial report 27 concluded by pointing out that performance of censorship products tends to be inversely
proportional to accuracy: Tested censorship systems which don’t slow down the internet don’t work very well, systems
which have low overblocking error rates cause performance degradations of 87%. The report also mentioned that none
of the products tested in the trial were capable of reliably distinguishing between legal and illegal material, even under
controlled laboratory conditions with vendor support.
By not mentioning any of this, you are misleading by omission, and endorsing the lie with your own
Of course, perhaps that’s all of very little import, because the you have disavowed the laboratory trial
report anyway 28. Why is the ALP’s form letter bringing it up if it doesn’t care about the results?
The laboratory trial indicated that ISP filtering products have developed in their effectiveness since they were
last assessed in 2005. The Government will now proceed with a ‘live’ pilot in the second half of 2008 which
will provide valuable information on the effectiveness and efficiency of filters installed in a ‘real world’ ISP
network. An Expression of Interest will be released in due course seeking the participation of ISPs in the
The “live” pilot did not proceed in the second half of 2008. The entire process has been a disaster zone 29, with the you
announcing on the commencement day of your promised 24 December 2008 trial that it would instead proceed in mid
The Expression of Interest documentation included such gems as:
* No requirement to test IPv6, a technology which will become an absolute requirement for the continued
operation of the internet from late 2010,
* No requirement to test faster than 12 Mbit/sec, even though the Minister’s NBN project forbids speeds
slower than 12 Mbit/sec, and
* Despite its status as a “live trial”, some of the testing is to be simulated, and should not involve real users.
Somehow we are expected to learn something about real-world deployments from those results.
1 http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/S11346.pdf beginning on page ECA 76
4 http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/legis/cth/consol_act/claoaoma22004729/sch1.html?query=%22child %20abuse%20material%22
References to “child abuse material” and “child pornography material” in the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications and other matters) Act
(No. 2) 2004
5 http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,21923386-662,00.html Herald Sun “No money to chase internet pedophiles”, June 18 2007
6 http://www.liberal.org.au/news.php?Id=77 Coalition press release “Internet safety a low priority as razor gang strikes”, and
http://libertus.net/censor/ispfiltering-au-govplan.html#s_38 Irene Graham’s analysis of the ALP’s 2008-09 Federal Budget papers.
Home : (03) 9645 5586, 2010 March 15 Page 4 of 5
Mobile: 0419 538 140
7 http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,24876765-5006364,00.html “Why Kevin Rudd’s internet censorship
plan will not work”, opinion piece by Mark Newton
8 Poll result reported on www.3aw.com.au throughout November, now deleted from the site
10 http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=1116809&r=17707387#r17707387 Letter from Senator Nick Minchin to the editor of The
Advertiser responding to the article cited in footnote 7 on 6 January 2009
11 http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=1118943&p=41#r803 Letter from Senator Nick Xenophon to Mr. Mark Newton, 9 January 2009
12 http://www.senatorbernardi.com/2008/12/corys-comment-isp-filtering.html Statement from Senator Cory Bernardi, 12 December 2008
13 http://media.mytalk.com.au/3AW/AUDIO/291008_Internet_Filter.wma Audio of interview between Senator Nick
Xenophon and Derryn Hinch, 3AW Drive Programme, 29 October 2008
The Age, “Children’s welfare groups slam net filters”, 1 December 2008
15 http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/pubrelease/isttf/ “Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies”, Internet Safety Task
Force, commissioned by 49 US attorneys general, researched by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
16 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/11/10/2414895.htm “Filtering advocates need to check their facts”, Mark Newton, 10 November 2008
17 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/12/31/2129471.htm ABC Online, “Conroy announces mandatory internet filters to protect children”
18 http://www.iia.net.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=130&Itemid=33 IIA
19 http://www.itnews.com.au/News/88655,duplicate-content-filter-will-hurt-familyfriendly-isps.aspx IT News, “Duplicate content filter will hurt family
friendly ISPs”, 10 November 2008
20 http://www.sage-au.org.au/display/SAGEAU/Press+Releases “Open letter from SAGE-AU to Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital
21 http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/12/internet-censors-must-be-accountable-things-they-b Electonic Frontiers Foundation, “Internet censors must be
accountable for things they break.”
26 http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/web/fatal-flaws-in-web-censorship-plan/2008/12/22/1229794328860.html Sydney Morning Herald, “Fatal
flaws in website censorship plan, says report”.
%3DPC_311316&rank=1&collection=agencies “Closed environment testing of ISP-level internet content filtering”, ACMA, 2008
28 http://techwiredau.com/2008/10/interview-with-media-contact-for-senator-the-hon-stephen-conroy-regarding-australianinternet- filter/ Interview with
Tim Marshall, media liaison for Sen. Stephen Conroy. “… now there needs to be clarification on those tests they were designed by the previous government
so they weren’t necessarily testing things that we may have tested if we were designing the parameters of that research.”
29 http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/12/09/1228584820006.html Sydney Morning Herald, “Labor plan to censor internet in shreds”, Asher Moses, 9
30 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/12/24/2454789.htm?section=justin ABC Online, “Net filtering trial delay `another Govt bungle’”, Adrian
Crawford, 24 December 2008