I raised a few of my own concerns about what was written in the filtering article that appeared in today’s Australian, but EFA Chairperson, Dale Clapperton, has dissected the article with much more precision.

He highlights two of its biggest problems: Random statistics that cannot be confirmed, and Family First senator Steve Fielding’s call for automated content filtering technology to scan for objectionable content, and a new “grey list” of sites, such as those promoting anorexia.

Dale’s response:

Now it becomes clearer who’s pulling the government’s strings on this issue. Labor will need Senator Fielding’s support to get legislation through the Senate if it’s opposed by the Coalition. Fielding is shaping up as the new Harradine of the upper house.

Now the true colours of this scheme begin to show itself. Promoting anorexia is out. Presumably, he will also want to ban anything promoting abortion, contraception, gay rights, gay marriage, being gay, pre-marital sex, and anything else that his right-wing conservative Christian morality objects to.

The power of numbers

As noted, the article contains some pretty extravagant statistics in regards to child pornography. Zero sources – but who needs boring sources, right?

Child Wise Chief Exec, Bernadette McMenamin, told the Aus “more than 100,000 commercial websites offer child pornography and more than 20,000 images of child pornography are posted on the internet every week.”

Furthermore, the article reports that “various international groups have estimated the number of child pornography websites alone to be in the millions, while one local internet service provider told The Australian it could be as high as 30 million sites globally.”

Dale’s response:

According to Homer Simpson, 95% of all statistics are made up on the spot. I suspect these ones were too. Moreover, these are the very best kind of statistics — the kind that absolutely positively can’t be disproved by anybody with a mind to do so.

Want to see the information on which these statistics are based? They won’t show you it. EFA had to fight a Freedom of Information Request all the way to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal because the ABA wouldn’t release any information about any sites on the ‘official blacklist’. The argument goes that if they have to show these details to anybody, then people will stop complaining about illegal material, and organisations such as ‘Inhope’ (International Association of Internet Hotlines) will shun them.

Even if you had a list of this alleged 100,000 commercial websites offering child pornography, how are you supposed to verify it? You would be breaking the law if you looked at even one of them to see if it did, in fact, contain child pornography.

I am sure that there is child pornography on the Internet. Nobody denies it. I think that the prevalence of child pornography is being blown out of all proportion by groups such as Child Wise, who have their own agendas to further. I also think that the child pornography which does exist on the Internet is sufficiently well hidden (AFAIK, it is illegal to distribute or possess it in practically every country in the world) that it is highly unlikely to come to the attention of the average Internet user, unless they were actually seeking out child pornography. And if they are seeking out child pornography, I don’t think Conroy’s little scheme is going to stop them.

I think we also need to be clear about the terms we’re using here. ‘Child pornography’ is pornography depicting actual children. A naked picture of an actual 18 year old who might appear 17 years old is not child pornography. If a story involving sex with under-age characters constitutes child pornography, better put Romeo and Juliet on the official blacklist. While we’re banning Shakespeare, put The Merchant of Venice on the official blacklist, it incites racial hatred against Jews.

More to the picture

Of course the issue isn’t just about child pornography though is it, despite what might be claimed in the media. There’s three aspects of pornography being stuffed into the one plan. Dale points them out:

  1. Access to child pornography. It’s already illegal. An expensive ineffective filter isn’t going to do anything;
  2. Access by children to adult pornography. This is an issue for their parents or guardians. They wouldn’t let them watch a late-night horror movie unsupervised, or buy pornographic magazines at the corner newsagent, why do they treat the Internet as a babysitter?
  3. Access by adults to adult pornography. Underneath all the government posturing, this is what I suspect the plan is really about. Pornography is bad, sinful, immoral, there ought to be a law, and so forth.

However, Point 1 remains by far the most important. It’s the canvas for which the Government is painting the picture of how their plan will work. But the cold, hard reality is that child pornography will not be stopped if a filter is introduced. It’s distribution and even worse, it’s production, will not be decreased. No one wants that.

Funding the Australian Federal police, building upon relationships with foreign Governments and Law Enforcement, and pursuing social change through education and thoughtful policy has a better chance of making progress in the fight against child pornography – not knee-jerk legislation removing the rights of every law abiding Australian citizen.

Read all of Dale’s post at his blog, Defending Scoundrels.