Guest post by Geordie Guy

Were I to commission you with the sum of $145 million to single-handedly cook and eat all of the elephants in existence before Christmas, with what would you season them?

I am unaware of any demography that actually eats them, but I imagine they are red meat. Would you apply a Diane sauce? Cook them in a rendang curry? Would you adopt a minimalist approach and apply freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of flake sea salt? Perhaps as a presumably gamey meat they would be a triumph in a pressure cooker with a bay leaf, new potatoes and some thyme. I’m paying the $145m so the people who gave me all this money are curious as to how you are going to go about it.

Before you proceed to the bottom of the page and comment that I have clearly not paid my brain bill, or quote me on another website as an example of the Internet’s latest fool, consider that this question is what Clive Hamilton posed at ABC online today. Despite the patent absurdity of a nauseatingly ridiculous claim before you, why do you insist on rejecting the finer points of debate on the approach?

To say the answer is obvious is to go into far more detail than the question warrants or deserves. Clive’s article available here meanders on a wandering straw man attack.

He finds some pretty good straw men, selecting comments such as “It’s a big bad electronic world out there, so the kids better get used to it” as indicative of the logic behind the swelling voice of dissent against the Government. Of course were we as the sensible, educated opponents of the logically bankrupt plan to choose comments such as “The Internet is full of paedophiles and it killed Jesus” as indicative of the handful of supporters I would imagine we’d take quite a bit of flak – but of course it doesn’t serve Clive’s arguments to consider the rational opposition to his confused and factually specious arguments.

Clive’s position is largely misdirecting empathy. He states, “We know that parents are extremely concerned and feel overwhelmed by the pressure on them to regulate their children’s access to this type of material. They don’t want to be the household spy and policeman, forever looking over their children’s shoulders or checking to see what they have downloaded on their mobile phones” and to an extent I can sympathise.

I have not yet begun to grow my family to the point that my interaction with children is more acute than my young cousins, nephews and nieces but I imagine that parenting is difficult. What Clive unfortunately does in this patronising absolution of parental responsibility is open himself to attack on the sole aspect of the argument he is even willing to show up to the battlefield on; that parents want mandatory ISP level filtering for the protection of children.

It’s logically axiomatic to think that parents are concerned, it’s no stretch of the imagination to believe they are extremely concerned. This extreme concern is what has seen billions of children grow to adulthood through their parents’ fear that they will be killed in traffic accidents, drown at the beach or otherwise meet an early demise. Were parents apathetic to their children who are at least initially incapable of keeping themselves alive, the results would be obvious and final. Where Clive tries to hide the fact he seems to believe he is in possession of a crystal ball, is when he says that they are (or more accurately, feel) overwhelmed.

His favourite source, the 2003 Australia Institute commissioned poll that asked Australian parents whether they would support a system that automatically filtered out internet pornography going into homes, unless adult users asked otherwise, has taken its place in the debate around ISP level filtering and set a new standard for push-polling and its utility in public debate. It’s been reiterated over and over again that a poll put forward to parents asking if the Government should provide an option for parents to better protect their children is going to get overwhelming support. I would have responded yes, I’m shocked a percentage of any side responded no.

Clive continues to champion this five year old poll as support for the current plan, a mandatory (no opt-in, no opt-out, no opt-sideways) ISP level filter that will destroy the Internet’s utility and cement us at the bottom of the developed world (or see us relegated to the top of the third world) for Internet infrastructure. Of course that’s my opinion and the opinion of highly qualified and experienced technologists everywhere. I can imagine eightieth percentile rejection of the plan were I in charge of phrasing the poll question too.

Clive meanders along citing some more “libertarians” who’ve chosen to be quoted for their fervour more than their restrained logic and finally comes to the bottom of his article, with the age-old chestnut;

“If the people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor government is going to disagree”

Wait… no he didn’t, that was someone else. Sorry. Clive’s article says;

“I have heard no one argue that films, television, books and magazine should be a free-for-all. But somehow all of this goes out the window when it comes to the internet.”

That’s better. Yet again a graduate of the Australian Women Online, David Koch school of “offline life is different to online life and the Internets are a Godless, lawless parallel universe of evildoers”. Clive’s argument that if you are against an impossible scheme of censorship of the Internet, you are an anarchist, is reminiscent of the same straw man arguments that have been thrown around all through this debate and still doesn’t seem to get any truer despite the amount of times they’ve been repeated.

We are still no closer to a regime whereby a Government official sits with us slamming their hand down on a book as we turn a page to “unwanted content”, and nobody is at the cinema clapping their hand over childrens’ eyes during the scary bits. But Clive can’t resist temptation to equate a system whereby people are punished for doing the wrong thing with a system where people are prohibited from attempting to do something that pro-censorship lobby groups consider morally objectionable.

Finally, “The Government is currently commissioning trials to see how effective filters can be”. Well, it seems Clive is so seasoned at prejudging a conclusion that it snuck into the sign-off on his article.

As Clive’s imagined visage of Internet libertarians would put it, “pwned, kthx bai.”

Geordie is a computer systems architect in Sydney with a decade of experience working with business and people in both the IT industry itself as well as other markets. He is a qualified network engineer as well as certified by Microsoft, Citrix Systems, Cisco Systems and IBM. Geordie has a strong interest in technology rights management as well as online censorship and Australian public policy as it relates to technology. He joined the EFA board in 2008.