The Great Aussie Firewall – it’s not about porn, it’s about control
Tuesday April 07th 2009, 12:50 pm

Child pornography is Labor’s WMD.  It’s nothing but an excuse that few will disagree with to implement mandatory censorship, with the premeditated intent to use the filter for a much broader range of material, inclusive of political speech and peer-to-peer filesharing. Once the filter is in place, it will be expanded. The Australian Christian Lobby will see to that. ACL’s Jim Wallace has said in no uncertain terms that he wants all ordinary porn blocked, as well as numerous other subjects on his list of pet hatreds.

Frankly, the primary goal of the filter is blocking political speech critical of the government’s positions. The ACL and some of the less savvy child protection advocates are merely useful idiots to the ALP in driving the anti-porn furphy. These groups have access to a rather small but vocal base. Their sympathetic audiences are susceptible to emotive arguments, inclusive of conspiracy theories, instead of fact. They are likely to be distrustful of educated and intellectual arguments against filtering from well qualified people.

Clearly, despite Senator Conjob’s and the ACL’s protestations that ‘no one should be able to opt in to child pornography,’ no reasonable Australian supports free access to child pornography. However, there’s numerous reasons not to use internet filtering to address the problem, perhaps the most significant being that it’s like drawing the drapes because someone’s being murdered in your front yard. However, it’s really worse than that. In this metaphorical example, given how trivial it is to circumvent ISP level filtering, it’s like drawing transparent or even imaginary drapes. Plain old police work must be used to catch child pornographers, specifically and critically, those exploiting children to produce the material, to seize their files and shut down distribution.

If ordinary adult pornography is going to be handed up as a reason for the filter, that’s an argument that simply won’t win in Australia. Most of you will know from personal experience that Aussies don’t mind a bit of porn. However, there’s precious little proper research into Australians’ relationship with porn.

Thanks to Associate Professor Alan McKee, Dr. Kath Albury and Professor Catharine Lumby, there’s now a bit more in the body of evidence that not only do we like a bit of porn, it’s demonstrably harmless.

The Porn Report is a book-length investigation into stereotypes and opinions of sexual depictions in modern Australia:

True or false?

  • Most porn users are uneducated, lonely and sad old men.
  • All porn is violent.
  • Pornography turns people into rapists and/or paedophiles.
  • Pornography uniformly portrays women as passive objects of men’s sexual urges.

The Porn Report debunks these and many other misconceptions about porn consumers, producers and the industry at large.

In this first book-length account on pornography in Australia, Alan McKee, Kath Albury and Catharine Lumby present a comprehensive never-before-seen picture of the adult-content industries and its consumers.

The standard for existing censorship in Australia is based upon what will ‘offend the reasonable Australian adult.’ Kath Albury wrote an expert witness report for the OFLC regarding ‘reasonable’ Aussies’ potential for offence:

Expert Witness Report Summary: Dr Kath Albury

Terms of Reference

1. I have been asked to address the following question:
Having regard to current community standards of morality, decency and propriety would a film involving various forms of actual sexual activity, including close-ups, between consenting adults but with no coercion or violence be likely to cause offence to the reasonable adult?

[…]

Summary:

Having considered the relevant research, I conclude that, taking current
community standards into account, the reasonable adult is not offended by sexually explicit material. This view acknowledges that there are those within the diversity of the Australian community who oppose the production and distribution of sexually explicit material under any circumstances.

[…]

This report does not argue that minority views are unreasonable. However, it notes that there is considerable evidence of increasingly ‘liberal’ attitudes towards sexually explicit media among younger Australians, which suggests a cultural shift is currently taking place.

Australian research conducted since 1992 indicates that between 56 and 75 per cent of those surveyed believe that non-violent, sexually explicit materials that depict consenting adults (aged over eighteen) should be available to adults.

Where research has been conducted with consumers of sexually explicit
material, this has indicated that the majority find non-consensual sex, violent sex, and sex with children to be abhorrent. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that both male and female consumers of sexually explicit material are repelled by material in which performers appear to be coerced, drugged or otherwise ‘unhappy’, preferring material which depicts mutually pleasurable sexual activities.

[…]

However, while attitudes vary widely, available research indicates that most Australians have a ‘liberal’ attitude towards sexually explicit material, including close-up depictions of sexual activity, provided such material is non-violent, and restrictions are in place that prevent non-intentional viewing, and especially access by minors .

Albury blows great big smoking holes in the ACL’s furphies about porn, notably their contentions that porn is addictive, drives consumers to seek ‘more extreme’ porn and that anything resembling a majority of Aussies are offended by porn.

Be they from wanton ignorance or simple gaps in knowledge, ACL have fundamental misunderstandings about the psychological effects of pornography use as well as the basic operation of the internet. In ACL’s  podcasts, Lyle Shelton persistently claims that ISP level porn filtering is better or less defeatable than PC level filtering and also claims that this filtering is being accomplished ‘at the source.’ In the vast majority of cases, the local ISP isn’t the source. It’s a conduit, but not the source. It’s very much akin to blaming the power company for a customer’s illicit activities which may happen to use electricity.

The fundamental disconnect between Conjob’s proposed filter policy (written mainly by ACL) and the rest of Australian society is the authoritarian approach. ACL claim some sort of superiority and authority over all Aussies and demand we comply with their standards. Conjob wishes to impose filtering, not because there’s any good evidence that such should or even can be implemented, but rather just because his position permits him to write legislation on the topic.

Crap. Arbitrary and capricious crap, implemented by fiat, against all qualified advice and research.

As Mark Newton said:

Mark Newton: If Senator Conroy took the word ‘mandatory’ out of the proposal, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it. No-one seriously argues that there should be an unfettered right for everyone to access child pornography. What we are arguing about is whether there should be government control imposed on this medium that we use for human to human communication in 2009 and onwards. If the government took away that ‘mandatory’ word, we could all pack up, go home and the whole issue would be over.

While ACL and their emotive arguments are convenient for Senator Conroy’s promotion of his plan, they’re repugnant to the majority of Australians. In the end, Conroy doesn’t care so much about general porn per se, he wants to be able to restrict speech on political matters that his party do not support. Child and regular adult porn are just stinking red herrings in this argument, but ACL are quite happy to be fishmongers.

Another motivation for the government is control of peer-to-peer filesharing. Conroy didn’t just telegraph as much as billboard his feelings about P2P filesharing in his daft and irresponsible comments regarding the pending suit against iiNet by intellectual property owners. Conroy again demonstrated his fundamental lack of understanding of how the internet works with his statements:

“I saw iiNet’s defence in court under oath … they had no idea their customers were downloading illegally music or movies. Stunning defence, stunning defence,” Senator Conroy said.

“I thought a defence in terms of ‘we had no idea’ … belongs in a Yes Minister episode.”

It’s completely reasonable that iiNet does not know what data their customers are moving with P2P, given the encrypted and decentralised, distributed nature of P2P. Apparently Conroy simply doesn’t understand how P2P works, but that’s unsurprising given his demonstrated limited understanding of related technological issues. What’s really stunning here is a minister of the Crown attempting to prejudice a case which is before the courts.

It’s terribly fortunate that any ISP level filtering scheme is incredibly easy to circumvent, but if the government were to criminalise beating the filter, we have an entirely different problem. Given the authoritarian conduct of the Minister in his specification for a mandatory filter, I believe he just might try that on. While Senator Conroy believes the comparison is hyperbolic, criminalising filter evasion truly is the only difference between his policy and the Chinese internet firewall.

Asher Moses suggests:

With rumours that the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will reshuffle his ministry after the budget, Senator Conroy, whose internet filtering and national broadband network policies are in disarray, may be vulnerable.

As badly as Conroy has mucked up the filter and NBN matters, compounded by his iiNet gaffe, it’s hard to imagine that Rudd would not change horses. It’ll make a backdown from the ill-considered filter scheme possible, given that Conjob’s ego will never allow him to admit that he’s just plain wrong.

-weez


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