Philosophy Hurts Your Head

The blog of a cranky Philosophy PhD Student from Newcastle, Australia.

Archive for November, 2008

GetUp! finally on board with anti ISP Filtering campaign!

Posted by Sam D on November 26, 2008

The title says it all! Please get involved if you can.


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ISP Filtering (In)Action Update

Posted by Sam D on November 26, 2008

Resistance -Nothing. Actually, they have not done anything about any cause in the last few weeks. 0/10

GreenLeft Weekly – A brief mention on a related forum which resulted in no discussion. 1/10

GetUp! – Published a blog piece by Irene Graham of and apparently emailed some members promising action and a campaign, neither of which have eventuated, yet. 3/10 – To say I expected more from these people would be an understatement. I don’t think they are pro-filter as such, I just think they don’t care what happens in Australia. 0/10

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy have released the results of their Q & A regarding the Live Trial of ISP Filtering. There are a lot of responses to questions, but I would not consider many of them actual answers. 0/10

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Australian Sex Party

Posted by Sam D on November 18, 2008

It isn’t as salacious as it sounds, but it is exciting stuff nonetheless.  The Australian Sex Party has been formed recently, and will be revealing their policies (I hope) on Thursday. 

The Australian Sex Party is a political response to the sexual needs of Australia in the 21st century. It is an attempt to restore the balance between sexual privacy and sexual publicity that has been severely distorted by morals campaigners and prudish politicians. (from the ASP website).

If the claim that 4 million Australians look at pornography every year is at all accurate, then a campaign via the points of sale of this product is going to reach a lot of people. I think it safe to say that most consumers of pornography and adult products in Australia are either Labor or Coalition voters (just becuase most Australians are either Labor or Liberal/National voters), so there exists a real opportunity to steal Senate votes from the two major parties, not just the Greens. With the support of the EROS association, they may be a political force to be reckoned with

It is reported that the party’s platforms include a national sex education curriculum, reducing censorship, abolishing the government’s proposed internet filter and supporting gay marriage. I’m waiting to see the actual policies before making a full judgment.  

Comments follwing the Telegraph report on the formation of the ASP suggest that at least some people feel democracy is only working when it elects the people that suit them. As I said in the comments myself, if democracy is good enough for Family First, then it’s good enough for the Australian Sex party. You can’t have it both ways.

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Resistance, GetUp!: Too Soft on Labor?

Posted by Sam D on November 10, 2008

I have noticed a distinct lack of activity on the part of two organisations with regard to the spectre (if I can use such an emotive word) of non-transparent government internet censorship in Australia. Read more about the censorship here

GetUp!, instrumental in the downfall of the Howard government (or so some think), has had very little to say on the subject, and has launched no campaign. Some do not think the organisation is as independant from the Labor party as it would have the public believe. I’m not sure what has caused this lack of response.

The other political organisation whose lack of response strikes me as odd is Resistance. Now, being a left leaning orgainisation, I understand that their members are probably happier with Mr Rudd as PM than Mr Howard (I know I am, or I was til recently). But I have heard nothing from them on this issue, at all. Nothing on their webpage. Nothing on the Resistance Blog. Nothing in Green Left Weekly. And it isn’t like they don’t know, becuase I’ve emailed them myself. Have they not worked out that ISP interent filtering in the hands of a government hostile to them could wipe them off the web in Australia? Apparently not. I don’t know if Pete Robson is still involved with Resistance, but if he is: Pete, I’m very dissapointed. 

So what is this all about? Why has the Left (and I use the term very loosely to mean non-Coalition) other than the Greens had nothing to say about this? Is it fear of causing a divisive discussion between conservative and progressive members? Is it backroom politics and links to conservative trade union movments (not really my theory by the way). Is it run of the mill disorganisation and incompetance? I don’t know, but I intend to find out.

Posted in News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Is Australian Internet Censorship a Barrier to Trade?

Posted by Sam D on November 5, 2008

The answer is: Potentially, yes.
But with whom?
First up there is the European Union.
The European Parliament resolution of 19 February 2008 on the EU’s Strategy to deliver market access for European companies (2007/2185(INI)) specifically adresses this very issue, with the European Parliament calling on the Commission (to the European Parliament) :

“to specifically deal with all restrictions on the provision of Internet and information society services imported by European companies in third countries as part of its external trade policy and to regard all unnecessary limitations on the provision of those services as constituting trade barriers.”

It remains to be seen how much European content would be blocked before it is deemed an “unnecessary limitation”, but I think the potential is there.  On top of there is the objective outlined by the Commission to:

“keep the Internet as an open and censorship-free zone where all the world’s citizens can communicate freely with each other without needing to seek the permission of anyone else, including their governments, in line with internationally recognised fundamental rights.”

Full text here

This was in in an answer to questions regarding the European Parliament commitment to protect ‘cyber dissidents‘. INterestingly enough, the legislation that sets the background for the public hearign leading to the question being asked in the firstplace was this:European Parliament resolution on freedom of expression on the Internet . This resolution says a lot of differnt things, but I particularly like: 

“5.  Calls on the Commission and the Council to draw up a voluntary code of conduct that would put limits on the activities of companies in repressive countries;”

I know it’s voluntary, but wouldn’t it be a pity if European companies had even more limits on what business they could conduct here. In time this may apply to any European companies that contribute to the censorship effort. 

I’m still working on deciphering the Australia-US free trade agreement, to see if it contains anything relevant. I susupect there won’t be, but time will tell. 

There seem to be more arguments against the censorship of the internet everyday. I can only hope that Senator Conroy listens to reason and finds a way out of this mess.

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Australia loses right to uncensored Internet!

Posted by Sam D on November 4, 2008

Well, not quite yet, but the way things are going I think we are heaing that way. People overseas, both in the US and Europe are expressing surprise the relative lack of uproar over this. There are a number of reasons for this lack of general concern. I suspect some of this has to do with Australians having a weaker conception of things like freedom and liberty. I also suspect many Australians don’t really take to heart the idea that some (if not most) rights exist because of people rather than because of governments. I’ll leave speculating about such high ideals for another day though.

In a practical sense, I suspect what is driving this lack of concern is lack of awareness of the issue in the first place. This might not be entirely responsible but I’m sure it is a signifigant factor. So why isn’t the general public in Australia aware that the government is about to legislate away our right to an un-censored internet? For a start, uptake of this story has been minimal to non-existant by the print media. Newspapers are still one of the major sources of news (strangely enough) here. Ans while many papers have had articles regarding the ISP filtering on their websites, very few if any of these stories have hit actual paper.

Likewise, this story has yet to feature on a nightly news program or eveng current affairs program. Now given the level of journalistic integrity (or lack thereof) that most Australian current affairs shows exhibit, this might not be such a bad thing.

The one medium where the issue is being debated is (of course) online. But even here we are making a poor showing for ourselves. An example: Of the 254,000 users registered on the Whirlpool Broadband Forums there have not been more than 3000 – 4000 views of the ongoing discussion, despite these threads being replied to so often that they have seldom been off the front page of the site. Even if I’m totally wrong in my guesstimate, it could not be more than 10,000. So where are the rest of them? Sure we don’t have 250,000 people on reegularly, but there are usually at least 2000 users on these forums at any one time.

Some Australian bloggers have made fine contributions to the debate. Hexpletive, Sean the Blognaut, and many, many more that I discovered via The Australian Index (an index of Australian blogs, obviously) have been writing extensivly and thoughtfully on the subject from before I even heard about all of this. USing the more common related categories, I estimate there are no more than 400 – 500 Australian bloggers registered with the index writing about this. I would have expected a few more contributions from the over 3000 blogs listed on this site.

Likewise, whileover ten thousand Australians on Facebook have joined groups like No Australian Internet Censorship, many hundreds of thousands of Australians have not.

My point? All Australians who are aware of what could be about to happen to our internet, and more importantly our freedom, need to put more effort into making others aware of this. Most people don’t know at all – and they can’t be a party to the debate we sorely need to have until they do.

Edit: Now actually linking to Sean’s blog.

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Slippery Slopes and the Conroy Plan

Posted by Sam D on November 2, 2008

There is a lot of shouting about Slippery Slopes in the debate aout Stephen Conroys plan to enforce mandatory ISP level filtering on the internest in Australia. Now some choppers of logic out there might want to respond by saying that slippery slope arguments are invalid. And if you fail to indepednantly justify the connections between the premises, they are indeed invalid. Likewise if the agument forms a ‘conjuntion fallacy’. However, Eugene Volokh, who recently gave his considered opinion on the situation at The Volokh Conspiracy, details at length the different kinds of slippery slopes that exist and the mechaisms by which they operate. He does ot say that Slippery Slope arguments are valid (just the opposite I think), but he does argue that they do in fact occur in real life, and explores how they work

For our slippery slope today, I will define our ‘top of the slope’ as follows: The imposition of mandatory IPS filters blocking access to ‘illegal content’. By Illegal content I mean anything that would currently be ‘Refused Classification’ under ACMA guidlines eg, child pornography, fetish and BDSM, anything that advocates terrorist acts, anything that is instructional in the commission of a crime (note that ‘illegal content’ is currently ill defined, so I am kind of guessing here) . For the sake of brevity I’d call this  simply ‘censorship’ (but don’t be mistaken, I disagree with even this amount of censorship). 

The bottom of the slope could be something like this: Isp filters cause extensive content to be blocked including all X18+ material, sites about Euthanasia, as well as any other sites that offend federal politicians, their wives or their lobbyists – Severe Censorship

Based roughly on categories in Mechanisims of the Slippery Slope

  1. Cost-lowering: Once  ISP level filtering (enabling censorship) is in place, the government will have to only alter the secret blacklist to ban additional sites.
  2. Legal rule combination: I can’t think of how this category is to be applied in this case – any ideas would be greatly appreciated.
  3. Attitude altering: People may begin to think of access to websites as a privilege rather than a right, and thus regard restricted access less seriously.
  4. Small change tolerance: People may tolerate Censorship because it constitutes just a small change, but when combined with other small changes, it could lead to the equivalent of Severe Censorship.
  5. Political Power: The hassle of getting around the Moderate Censorship may reduce the number of people wanting unrestricted internet access, and thus the political power of the anti-censorship bloc decreases.
  6. Political momentum: Once the government has passed this ISP filtering law it becomes easier to pass other censorship laws, including laws that entail Severe censorship.

Off the top of my head, I’d say that No 1 is quite likely, though it isn’t clear that it will definetly lead to the bottom of the slope, I’d argue that it certainly could. No 3 could happen, but would take years to come about. No 4 seems quite likely to me. No 5 seem quite unlikely to me, for the time being. No 6 is arguably what is happeing right now, with this current situation being the result of earlier Brian Harradine inspired legislation. 

Anyway, I think there is food for thougt here. If there are good reasons to think that the ISP filtering can lead to an unacceptable situation in the future we need to do one of two things. A) Not enact the filtering or B) Set up structures or mechanisms that ensure we don’t slide down the slope. Given that unlike the U.S. our constitution is little help in the regard, I’m not sure what form this would take. 


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