Friday, November 28, 2008

Why I say no to NO CLEAN FEED

I have been disturbed at the number of people I admire signing up to the NO CLEAN FEED groups on Facebook (example 1, 2).

They are putting their names down to support the cause of opposing the Rudd government’s plan to force ISPs (internet providers) to provide a ‘clean feed’ of a censored internet for kids and a less strict version for adults.

The debate is currently revolving around censorship with a concern by web users that it will slow their download speeds.

All number of groups – IT workers, left-wing groups and free-speech activists, all good-intentioned I’m sure - are now getting involved.

Two things

!) The list of sites the govt plans to ban has not yet been seen. No one knows any of the sites on it as it has not yet been released. Senator Conroy has been coy (and he does seem a little suspicious) but he claims the child-friendly feed will restrict “pornography” and “inappropriate” content.

2) The alarm and misinformation these groups are spreading should be rejected by people claiming to support a censorship-free internet and unrestricted free speech.

NOCLEANFEED and other groups including The Greens have compared the move toward compulsory censorship to teh actions of communist China.

Activist group GetUp – who I have supported for other human rights causes – are now pitching in with a petition peddling the same fear tactics begun, it seems, by the Greens.

“Already, the wrangling has begun for the inclusion of material relating to anorexia, euthanasia and gambling."

I asked Senator Conroy’s office where the examples of sites above came from and they stated that they ‘were not mentioned by the government but by Greens Senator Ludlum at a Senate Estimates meeting last Monday.’ This was in late October.

Another factual fudge by GetUp In their ‘factsheet’ is the use of selective quotes from the govt’s Closed Environment Testing of ISP-Level Internet Content Filtering.

I downloaded this doc and found many positives they chose not to mention:

e.g. pg 48

“Under similar test conditions, the previous trial reported that performance degradation ranged from 75 % to a very high 98 % between the best-and-worst performing filtering products.”

GetUp says “net speeds will be limited by up to 87%.” Will? They could be, if the government wanted a worse case scenario and their own websites to crash.

The GetUp factsheet says:

:Will the proposed scheme slow down the internet? The measures will make the internet up to 87% slower..."

The exact quote from the government report is:

“Performance degradation measured in the current trial varied across a significantly greater range – from a very low two percent to 87 per cent between the best-and-worst performing filtering products.”

So the net may be slowed by as little as two per cent. It would be unlikely the govt would choose a tenderer with as terrible a result as 87% when 2% was available.

Lastly, with actual facts very hard to come by form either side, the government does state: "we have laws about the sort of material that is acceptable across all mediums and the internet is no different.”

I can find no reason to oppose this.

Working in website content roles for 8 years, as I have, I am as eager as anyone to push broadband speeds and keep information as free flowing as is it wise for a democracy.

This does not extend to making any kind of opinion or material available (post a Jihad site and see what happens)

The web is a new form of information delivery that the Howard government failed to exploit. Like Facebook, the web it spreads faster and wider with increasing detail for increasingly small niches of interest than any government will ever keep up with.

Howard also misunderstood how smart young users are in side-stepping ‘netnanny’ programs and how evil by adults can propagate at a much greater rate than ever before.

The Rudd government is attempting to limit the worst parts of the internet at the ISP level. Ideally, this will stop sites none of us would ever search for, look at and if we did we would rightly be repulsed.

NOCLEANFEED is alarming people that regular sites may be blocked by faulty filters or if the blacklist is hijacked by interest groups.

There are many groups one can join in favour of fixing problems in our world. Social justice, world peace, make poverty history, support nurses, house the homeless, Aboriginal welfare etc.

The NOCLEANFEED movement, while earnest in wanting to keep net speeds up and support free speech, remains poorly informed and open to influence of anti-authority spokespeople.

I don’t think this is a moral argument when facts are being misused on both sides. If you think it is, question why NOCLEANFEED is making things up and GetUp is misconstruing the findings of independent research. Senator Conroy may be shady and hiding an agenda but until legislation is written, the plan is just a plan and its intentions – as far as they are known – are to be encouraged.

We all want fast internet and less evil infecting people’s minds.

Australians could be more constructive and courageous if they supported government moves to limit child pornography and other illegal content in a way that won’t slow our broadband. And if we managed to block a whole lot of nastiness no one should be promoting, wouldn’t that help society, protect kids and save victims of abuse?

Net censorship is a fraught area for any government to consider, even a Labor one, but if it works in the main, who cares it if it slows my net speed a touch.

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