Friday, 20 March 2009

After the Internet, let's burn all the books. Nobody'll mind that, will they?

When I was in high school, and a keen but untutored debater, my team were affirmative in a debate on the topic "That censorship is an insult to the intelligent." At one point, one member of the opposing, negative, team pointed at various military hardware posters around the room and tried to use them as an example for a point he was making, but clearly didn't know what any of them were.

When I stood up, third speaker for my team (I always was), I went around and named each piece of hardware - helicopter or aircraft - to make the point that I was more intelligent than he was. I then used the story of how Tom Clancy had been threatened with a military court-martial as a spy because the details of anti-submarine warfare he had outlined in Hunt for Red October were so accurate. He had to take the military to his local library and show them how he had pieced together a plausable explanation from publicly available data. They let him off. Well, they had to (although today he might find himself in Guantanamo Bay before they had given him a chance to explain anything. That, however, is a different story).

Despite my inability at the time to remember the name "Tom Clancy", we won that debate and rightly so. Apart from being better debaters, we were right.

Censorship is an insult to the ingelligent, and it is an insult to voters in a democracy. Unfortunately, because so few of the people calling for it are actually intelligent themselves, it's got a good chance to get worse.

I am referring, of course, to the planned Great Firewall of Australia, the Berlin Wall dreamed up by Canberra, the national, mandated, non-opt-out, Internet filter.

I haven't said much in these pages, simply because I haven't much on anything over the past few months.

Every now and again, however, I get a head of steam up and feel that it is my duty to publicly insult the stupid.

I refer you to an article in the Australian entitled "Internet filter list of porn exposed".

Problem number one is that, as other commentators have already discovered and noted, it's not a list of porn at all. It's a lost of mostly porn, with the odd pet shop or dentist or poker or betting website thrown in for bad measure. So, shame on you The Australian.

This is the background:

The Australian Communications and Media Authority, the ACMA, maintains a list of sites which have been reported as offensive. This includes directly illegal content, specifically and most vocally child pornography, but also legal but reported-as-offensive-by-somebody content such as graphic anti-abortion websites, perfectly legal over-18 pornography, content which has been refused classification in Australian and is therefore not technically, actually, banned, and poker websites. That's the card game, not anything else you may think of from the pronounciation of the word "poker".

This list is used to create filter software so that, should families wish to download something from the government which restricts their internet viewing to only those sites not blacklisted by said government, which is a worrying sort of decision to make, they can do so.

The problem begins when the said government pledges to filter certain types of content for the entire country, whether or not you agree to this. They claim a mandate, of course, having won an election on the back of workplace and industrial relations laws and thereby clearly having been given carte blanche over telecommunications. If you can't see that perfectly obvious link then think of the children.

The list has, in a triumph of decency over paternalistic, fascist politics, been leaked to the website wikileaks which has, ironically, itself been put on the list for having leaked the lists used in other countries, and is available here, which is to say , and also, for good measure, at

Now: The ACMA says that the list is bogus. It may well be.

However, I don't wish to discuss the contents of that list, which are frequently hilarious, but the response to the list's release.

Let us dissect the Australian IT article itself.

Opening paragraph: "THE Rudd Government's plans for a nationwide internet filter are in jeopardy after its top-secret blacklist of banned web pages was leaked."

Excuse me? In jeopardy how? How on earth will people knowing what's on the list, affect the possibility of filtering the contents, apart from making somebody look like an idiot?

Moving on to paragraph two: "The list, published on the internet, reads like a White Pages of porn and its release has provided a handy guide for young people to access the very material the Government wishes to banish from their eyes."

I call time out for being an idiot. This isn't reporting, it's tabloid journalism. Here's another way to access a huge amount of the very material which the Government is trying to banish:

The White Pages at the very least tries to be comprehensive. This isn't even a decent yellow pages - the very idea that any list with less than about a million entries could possibly be any sort of comprehensive guide to anything on the internet is laughable.

Paragraph three: "The secret blacklist, which was leaked to the whistle-blower website Wikileaks, is purportedly the same list the Australian Communications and Media Authority distributes to vendors of approved internet filters to ban offensive material -- such as child pornography, bestiality and violence."

Violence is offensive? Since when now? Is on the list? Or how about

"Senator Conroy has said he plans to use parts of the ACMA blacklist to block Australian internet users from accessing pornographic and violent material. Now the secret list has been made public, it is more likely it will be used by interested parties as a pornography database of unheralded proportions."

You have got to be kidding me. Who the hell wrote this tripe? Mitchell Bingemann, have you ever even been on the Internet?

"Child protection group Child Wise said whoever published the blacklist had opened up a pandora's box of porn."

No, sorry, the Internet did that.

""Every 15-year-old boy in thecountry is going to be after this porn list," said Child Wise chief executive Bernadette McMenamin."

I hate to break this to you Bernadette, but most 15 year olds masturbate, fart, tell each other filthy jokes and already know far more about their current tastes in porn than they could ever get from this list.

"Yesterday's disclosure of the blacklist could also jeopardise efforts to block access to offensive material as the perpetrators will now know they were tagged by the secret list."

Oh, who the fuck runs a child pornography website and doesn't already assume that they can be tagged?

I find the scariest part of this whole sordid mess of irresponsible journalism and rank head-in-the-sand squawking to be in the final paragraph (emphasis added by me):

"ACMA threatens fines of up to $11,000 a day for linking to sites on its secret censorship blacklist and said Australians caught distributing the list or accessing child pornography sites on the list could face criminal charges and up to 10 years in prison."

What the fuck? In other words, distributing a list of URLs is punishable in this country? How the hell did that happen?

In addition: How about everyone who's been fined puts their URL into a hat, and we can rebuild the list from first principles, hmm?

I'll leave the final word to Wikileaks themselves, as quoted in the article:

"While Wikileaks is used to exposing secret government censorship in developing countries, we now find Australia acting like a democratic backwater," the website notes.

"History shows that secret censorship systems, whatever their original intent, are invariably corrupted into anti-democratic behaviour."

And that, my friends, is why this must never be allowed to happen.
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