Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Jim Wallace, abandoned his mainstay argument of Christian morals when he wrote his SMH opinion piece about mandatory ISP filtering, preferring instead to tackle the Government’s net censorship plan primarily from a technical standpoint. The equivalent of a five year old offering advice on how to build a space shuttle — Fun to listen to but not something you take to the drawing board.

Wallace says opponents of filtering have mounted a shamelessly misleading campaign to exploit user fear about performance degradation. He writes:

The activist group GetUp!, for example, has raised a petition with the alarmist statement that filtering “will slow the internet by up to 87 per cent”, but the claim is based solely on the worst results of the products trialled.

It conveniently omits to advise would-be signatories that the trial results released in mid-2008 showed another of the filter products tested slowed internet performance by less than 2 per cent, and three products slowed it by less than 30 per cent. As one commentator has noted, GetUp!’s selective use of figures is like reporting on the first trial of refrigeration and writing off the technology because one freezer failed to cool the meat.

If GetUp! had drawn attention to the filtering product which slowed performance by less than 2%, they’d have also drawn attention to the fact it was unable to accurately identify what content was appropriate and what wasn’t. Of the filters tested during the Tasmania Enex trial (results available here) those which successfully blocked ‘inappropriate’ content without blocking innocent content reduced network performance by much more than 2%.

You might expect Wallace to mention this, but he doesn’t:

Internet service providers and the sex industry would want us to believe it would, and have commissioned at least one study full of expressions of woe. But isn’t that why we’re having a trial?

The latest Australian Communications and Media Authority trial report, published last year, showed the proportion of illegal and inappropriate content that was successfully blocked averaged above 92 per cent. This was a significant improvement on the 2005 trial, and we would expect more improvements in future.

Just as importantly, the rate of “over-blocking”, or preventing access to acceptable material, was in most cases less than 3 per cent, also a dramatic improvement on the 2005 trial. And again, unless you are a technology sceptic, this is inevitably going to improve.

Jim Wallace

Jim Wallace

Wallace fails to see the gravity of incorrectly blocking 3% of web pages. As Stilgherrian draws attention to in his post about Wallace, ‘Mark Newton reckons that for a medium-sized ISP that’s 3000 incorrect blocks every second.’ Whether the technology is going to improve is irrelevant when Government trials have shown it doesn’t work. You don’t introduce something now because it may become effective down the line.

His claim that it’s ‘Internet service providers and the sex industry’ who want us to believe blatantly ignores the countless politicians, industry leaders, scholars and families who have expressed their own concerns about the plan.

Wallace also gets it wrong when he says ‘from the outset, it has been clear this system is not going to stop any adult from viewing anything that is legal’. As many of us have pointed out the ACMA blacklist contains material that is legal for Australians to view and own.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) know this. Their pro-filtering campaign site, Keep IT Clean, says ‘Despite fear-mongering about censorship, adults will be able to opt in to view some forms of legal porn.’

They also describe claims political and religious comment will be censored as ridiculous, but only last week ACMA added an anti-abortion website to their prohibited content blacklist. In 2008, Senator Conroy told Sky News you can’t opt in or out of prohibited material (via Libertus).

The Australian Christian Lobby may insist that we need ISP filtering to protect children and women and that sections of the Internet industry and ‘porn lobby’ are opposed to the plan because it ‘threatens the money they can make through the trade in exploiting women and the lucrative download of pornography, including child porn’, but where are the facts?

If the only evidence mandatory filtering advocates like Jim Wallace have to show for support of this plan is a 2003 survey commissioned by the Australia Institute which found 93% of respondents ‘Would you support a system which automatically filtered out Internet pornography going into homes unless adult users asked otherwise’, what’s left to debate? None of the filters being trialed can automatically filter out Internet pornography effectively, the plan doesn’t allow for adults to opt-out, and at least 95,000 people said they don’t want what the Government has proposed in 2008.

Jim Wallace wants you to believe filtering will work and that there will be dreadful repercussions for not introducing it. He just doesn’t want you to research the facts.

Other blog posts on Wallace’s article:

Jim Wallace is wrong – Geordie Guy
Jim Wallace’s pro-censorship lies and distortions – Stilgherrian
Response to Jim Wallace’s puddle of misinformation – Websinthe