Senator Scott Ludlam

Senator Scott Ludlam

If you’re up for a bit of late night reading (or maybe that’s now early morning), check out the October 20 Hansard for Environment, Communications and the Arts (Complete PDF / Partial HTML) — Greens Senator Scott Ludlam questions Conroy and his team about filtering.

The juicy bits (or the ‘horrifyingly bad parts’ as Simon puts it): Hysterical bloggers, misleading International comparisons, pro-anorexia websites, and the C word. Oh and if you’re against filtering, you’re pro child pornography. There’s just no other argument, right?

No complete opt-out policy in the pipeline:

Senator Conroy – We are looking at the opt-out provision. It depends on which way you are looking at it. It can mean the opposite to what it sounds like, so it does get a little confusing. But in terms of the policy, what we are investigating is whether it is possible to ensure that people can opt out of an ISP filter if they wanted to look at material that is legal as opposed to not allowing an opt out for material that is illegal.

What might that cover? Euthanasia:

Senator Ludlam – What about, for another controversial example, euthanasia related material?

Senator Conroy – You would have to ask them whether that falls within their definition. There are calls for, as an example, banning pro anorexia websites. Again, it falls into that sort of category. So there are calls for a whole range of material to be included in the black list, but I do not think that they fall inside the existing definitions under the law. I do not think that they are caught.

Senator Conroy – Can I come back to Senator Ludlam’s comment about euthanasia. I was halfway through a sentence in the Broadcasting Services Act. The sort of material I described would be refused classification currently and regarded as prohibited content now. That is what I described before. I am happy to repeat that.

Hysterical bloggers and no benchmarks:

Senator Ludlam – I suppose I would put to you that there is a big difference between category of site and category of content. Sites can host all sorts of things. One example that has been put to me, for example, is somebody posting an article on a controversial topic on a website and someone then leaves a comment on that website and neither the ISP nor the person who posted the original article has any control over the kinds of comments that might be added. What are the odds that the filtering software in that case is going to start knocking out content inadvertently and start returning fairly serious false positives?

Senator Conroy – Underblocking and overblocking are obviously issues. That is why we are engaged in conversation with the sector about it-to specifically try to minimise this sort of impact.

Senator Ludlam – So what are your benchmarks or what is acceptable?

Senator Conroy – We are just at the very early stages. You are actually jumping ahead. I can understand that if you have been reading some of the wild and-

Senator Ludlam – Some of it is not so wild, Minister.

Senator Conroy – enthusiastic commentary that I keep seeing both in blogs and in the media. But we are actually only in the early stages and we have committed to consult with the sector to work through these very issues. We have not set some of those benchmarks. What we are seeing is what is the impact, but we have not said, ‘Right, three per cent is acceptable and seven per cent is not acceptable.’ We actually have not done that.

Senator Conroy-As I said, we are at the early stages. We have not made any decisions along those lines, so we are taking it step by step. This is a complex issue. Notwithstanding some of the commentary that borders on hysterical at times that you have possibly seen, we are just slowly and methodically working our way through and gathering information through this trial.

Senator Ludlam – Some of the comments that I have seen did not approach hysterical at all. I think there have been some quite well thought through concerns.

Senator Conroy-I am sure I have unfortunately probably seen a wider range of commentary than you have, Senator Ludlam.

If you’re against filtering, you’re for child pornography:

Senator Ludlam – Just let me finish. In terms of the countries that you have just listed for me, it is mandatory or is it an opt-in system that, for example, concerned parents could take advantage of?

Senator Conroy – Illegal material is illegal material. Child pornography is child pornography. I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography.

Senator Ludlam – No. That is why I was interested in asking about the law enforcement side of it as well.

Senator Conroy – No, we are working both angles at it. We are just trying to use technology to enforce the existing laws.
Senator Ludlam – I am just wondering if I can put these questions to you without being accused of being pro child pornography. That would assist.

Senator Conroy-I was wondering if I could get the questions without being accused of being the Great Wall of China.

Other countries that filter:

Senator Ludlam – You probably have. I will hand you back to the chair in a moment, but can I just go back to my earlier question. In terms of the countries that you are modelling the scheme on that you listed for us before, is internet filtering mandatory in those countries or is it opt in, opt out?

Mr Rizvi – The situation across the countries actually varies quite considerably, Senator. The situation in the United Kingdom, for example, is that a range of ISPs have introduced black list filtering-that is, the filtering of their equivalent of the ACMA black list. In respect of that filtering in the United Kingdom, the consumer does not have the option of opting out. They get an ISP feed which has those illegal sites filtered out. What is different there is the ISPs that are participating-and it is in fact now in the United Kingdom that the majority of the large ISPs are participating-on a voluntary basis rather than on a legislated basis.

Don’t mention the C word:

Mr Rizvi – There are a number of countries around the world where some degree of filtering is utilised.

Senator Ludlam -China for example?

Mr Rizvi – No. Actually, China was not one that I had in mind. I had more the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands in mind as examples of countries where some level of filtering has been introduced. Predominantly the filtering that has been introduced there is similar to that first stream of filtering that I described-that is, filtering what is known as the equivalent of the ACMA black list, which is at the moment predominantly child pornography sites.


As the minister mentioned, he has been consulting with a number of these countries about the idea of sharing these black lists so that we can take advantage of the economies that that might deliver us. ACMA has been consulting in particular with the United States and the United Kingdom about sharing websites, and they are making good progress in that regard. That would enable a more efficient management of the equivalent of the ACMA black list for Australia. Most Western countries that have introduced filtering have been focusing on the equivalent of the ACMA black list.

Senator Conroy – Just to indicate the countries that have implemented along the lines that Abul is talking about include Sweden, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. This is not some one-off excursion.

As Mark Newton points out on Whirlpool (he’ll be a bigger celebrity than Paris Hilton soon), none of these countries do anything like what Senator Conroy has proposed. For the facts on international filtering, read Irene Graham’s guide at Libertus.net.

Live trials:

Mr Rizvi ( Deputy Secretary, Broadcasting, Regional Strategy, Digital Economy and Corporate ) - We have contracted with a testing expert group known as NX Test Laboratories, who operate out of Melbourne, who are assisting us in the design of that pilot. Only last week we had a very lengthy telephone conference with a handful of ISPs as well as the Internet Industry Association to gauge their views on the draft technical testing framework for the live pilot.

Testing:

Mr Rizvi ( Deputy Secretary, Broadcasting, Regional Strategy, Digital Economy and Corporate ) - At a very broad level, the purpose of the pilot is to look at two streams of potential filtering. The first stream of filtering is in terms of just filtering the ACMA black list and different methodologies for filtering the ACMA black list. What we will seek to test is the impact of that type of filtering in terms of a range of criteria. We will also test more sophisticated types of filtering that go beyond just simply testing the ACMA black list through to filtering larger black lists and also looking at other types of filtering including dynamic filtering, filtering using key words-those sorts of methodologies-to see what the impact of that type of filtering is in terms of both the ISP and the customer.

Objectives?

Senator Ludlam – I know. But, if there is any intention to establish some form of internet filtering, you are obviously trialling some kind of model, so you have some idea.

Mr Rizvi – I think what the trial is about is to test an objective rather than to test a particular technology. What different ISPs may come up with is different approaches to doing the filtering and achieving the objective but there will be different technological solutions to the same objective. What we are interested in is testing a range of solutions to see what the features of the different solutions are.