Tuesday, March 30, 2010

World Wide Web of Censorship

conroydoms – click to enlarge
The Australian reports:
The Obama administration has questioned the Rudd government's plan to introduce an internet filter, saying it runs contrary to the US's foreign policy of encouraging an open internet to spread economic growth and global security.

Officials from the State Department have raised the issue with Australian counterparts as the US mounts a diplomatic assault on internet censorship by governments worldwide.

Responding to questions about the filter, commentary website The Punch reports today that US State Department spokesman Noel Clay has raised concerns on the filter plan.

A spokeswoman for Senator Conroy declined to comment on Mr Clay's remarks.

This comes on the back of damming criticism for the mandatory censorship policy by two of the internet industry’s biggest players, Google and Yahoo.

Both companies tendered their input in a discussion paper released by the Aus Dept of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, which had called for feedback on transparency and accountability measures, 174 submissions were received in total.

The policy (if you haven’t heard) aims to "deny access" to overseas hosted internet content that is Refused Classification in Australia.

"In considering the government's plans for mandatory ISP level filtering we have listened to many views, but most importantly those of our users."

"RC is a broad category of content that includes not just child sexual abuse material but also socially and politically controversial material - for example, educational content on safer drug use - as well as the grey realms of material instructing in any crime, including politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia. "

"Decisions in relation to instructional, educational, scientific or current affairs video material will often be much more complex than in relation to entertainment 'films'."

"Scenes of war or terrorist activity may 'offensively depict real violence' and rate RC when the video is not in any way 'gratuitous violence' or posted for entertainment."

"Moving to a mandatory ISP level filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond child sexual abuse material would raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information."

"Filtering material from high-volume sites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter appears not to be technologically possible as it would have such a serious impact on internet access".

"We have a number of other concerns, including that filtering may give a false sense of security to parents, it could damage Australia's international reputation and it can be easily circumvented."

"Yahoo are entirely supportive of any effort to make the internet a safer place for children, however mandatory filtering of all RC material could block content with a strong social, political and/or educational value"

"Innocuous sites that could be blocked include:
  • Safe injecting and other harm minimization websites.
  • Euthanasia discussion forums.
  • A video on creating graffiti art.
  • Anti-abortion websites.
  • Gay and lesbian forums that discuss sexual experiences.
  • Explorations of the geo-political causes of terrorism where specific terrorist organizations and propaganda are cited as reference material."

I offered my own personal submission (well kind of); I wrote to the minister 6 times, rejecting the automated address I received the first time I had written. I was overjoyed when I received a note from his office today, a very speedy 3 month turn around in response.

The last paragraph on page 1 reads:
"The RC Content list includes child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence including rape and detailed instruction of crime or drug use. The Government believes that RC content has no place in a civilized society and blocking of this material is nor an impingement on free speech."

This is really beginning to f*cking shit me. It’s regurgitated by the minister and Prime Minister every occasion the policy is discussed, it’s mindlessly repeated in every main stream media article ever posted about the policy.

Yes RC does include child sex, bestiality and rape. But as Google and Yahoo point out above, it also includes so much more.

The government should be required to reveal the truth, that RC content includes; safe drug injecting and harm minimization info, euthanasia forums, graffiti art videos, certain gay and lesbian forum content, terrorism studies, scenes of war "offensively depicting real violence", some fetish pornography, women with small breasts in porn and even porn featuring female ejaculation (when male ejaculation is quite acceptable).

If they did so though, told the truth, they would have but one solitary policy supporter, the Australian Christian Lobby.

This propaganda, choosing which facts to disclose, and which ones to omit, has been used to dodgy up surveys to in turn further the propaganda effort. It was reported that a commissioned survey reflected that 80% of Australians support mandatory internet censorship.

Crap! To begin, 1000 people only were telephoned, hardly a cross representational indication of the Australian continent. More importantly, participants were asked their opinion on the aforementioned propaganda:
Do you support the government filtering access to RC internet content that includes child sex, bestiality and rape?

You would have to be pretty f*cked up to answer no. Apparently though 20% of Australians are, or maybe they were just aware of the facts regarding the policy and choose not to comply with the loaded question.

An online survey on March 30, 2010 by the Age News paper was conducted without the propaganda.

Question - "do you approve of the government filtering the internet"

Response - 96% No, 3% Yes, 1% Indifferent

The Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995 governs classification decisions. It provides that classifications are in accordance with the National Classification Code and guidelines.

The Code sets out that RC is applied to content which may; depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) took action against 1365 different pieces of web page content hosted overseas in the period 2008 – 2009. This was double the volume of items actioned for the previous year. It includes not just RC material for which filtering will be based upon, but also X18+ and "potentially prohibited" content.

At the same time, the actual number of complaints received by the ACMA decreased in the period. We are told that the system is complaints driven; ACMA only investigates content when it receives a complaint. It is quite curious to see complaints decrease but actions undertaken double.

On the topic of censoring online games, page 3 of my letter from the minister’s office reads:
"The Minister for Home Affairs released a discussion paper to consider whether there should be an R18+ category for computer games in Australia. The government’s approach to filtering online games will be developed drawing on this consultation process"

Making shit up as they go along in essence. If R18+ video game ratings are still not forthcoming after the consultation, any online game there forth not suitable for persons aged 15 years and under will be blocked from access, if law requirements are followed.

view the complete letter here

The US Government, Google and Yahoo are the latest and biggest in a long, long growing line of critics against Australia’s internet censorship policy. But are they the pot calling the kettle black?

YouTube (owned by Google) has a growing reputation for removing user videos by the bucket load. I have a YouTube channel specifically designed for reloading content that has been removed/banned by YT.

Currently I am unable to keep pace with restoring the content that has disappeared from the site, just within the videos I have added to my channel favorites. These are not videos that violate the terms of service (although they are often claimed to), they do not contain sex or violence, they are however politically sensitive.

I’m glad Google is so concerned about "restrictions on access to information". To add some perspective, YT generally do "take downs" upon request, so the true censorship culprits are those doing the requesting, media corporations.

YouTube recently revealed that the media company Viacom have been engaged in the game of uploading their own product to YT, only to then turn around and lodge complaint with take down request.

As for the US Government "raising concern" over the policy, this really is a twisted game they are playing, which is why Minister Conroy will probably not feel unduly pressured by the remarks.

The US Gov is at the forefront of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which it is forcing upon the world. A balance heavily weighted in the interest of big media corps already exists under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but ACTA is set to take these interests to unprecedented new heights.

Australian copyright law largely mirrors US DM Copyright Act due to Australia being a signatory to the 2004 Free Trade Agreement, another US policy forced upon the world.

The ACTA treaty is highly secretive. After much tedious campaigning by Electronic Freedom Foundation in the US, 159 doc pages associated with the treaty were released, but only after 1362 had been deemed as potentially violating “national security” and withheld.

A new UK Digital Economy Bill has also been drafted as a result of ACTA negotiations. It is proposed in the UK, users have their internet service disconnected if they are caught file sharing 3 times or more, "three-strikes" and your out regime.

Other measures include a ban on open Wi-Fi (hot spots) and needless to say, website filtering. Currently the censorship of internet pornography and even abuse material is voluntary for ISPs in the UK, but this new Bill places compulsory requirements upon ISPs to block access to copyrighted content.

The ACTA treaty tentacles obligate signatories including Europe, USA, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and United Arab Emirates.

An EU ACTA negotiator recently promised no "3 strikes" rules for Europe, but a leaked ACTA draft would indicate otherwise, as will be the case in future for all aforementioned signatory nations.

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