Senator Stephen Conroy’s decision to can a comprehensive internet filter for Australia is a win for common sense, for three reasons.

The government won't be needing this high tech device anymore

The first is that with or without a filter, the depraved goons who like to view horrid material can get their hands on it. The same technology that has forced broadcasters into fast-tracking television shows before impatient viewers download them illegally can be used among small groups of people. Files shared in this way won’t have obvious and easily-filterable names and are extremely hard to detect.

That means a national filter as a mechanism to stop distribution of child pornography was never going to stop hard cases.

There’s a lot to like in the argument that a filter might have made it harder for the curious to seek out material that sparked an interest in the revoltingly hard-core stuff. But there’s also a lot to like in the counter-argument that finding and blocking all such material is a colossal task that would be all-but-impossible to conduct in ways that prevented sites from being wrongly blocked without swift recourse. Questions around just how blocking decisions would be made, implemented and appealed were never answered.

Conroy’s decision to use Interpol’s list of child abuse sites as the basis for a limited filter is therefore a common-sense compromise, as it removes Australia’s role as arbiter of online taste and narrows the filtering effort into a range it’s hard to argue against. Applying the Interpol list is also something internet service providers are happy to do – Optus, Telstra and others have done so and report few problems doing so.

The last reason this is a sensible decision is that Australia’s last effort at regulating what its citizens do online is an abject and utter failure that the government walked away from almost as soon as the ink was dry on the Governor-General’s signature.

That effort, 2001’s Interactive Gambling Act, prohibits us from using any offshore-hosted gambling websites, which means it’s illegal to play online poker. Yet as a review of that Act noted in May, thousands play poker online every day. And in all the time since 2001, not a single investigation of Australians gambling online with offshore services has been conducted.

Nor has there been a prosecution. Not a single one.

Given that Australia’s government has shown no will to enact a law already on the statue books, asking the nation to swallow a filter and a policing regime was never a good look.

It’s also worth noting that in the geeky circles I inhabit, the filter made Australia a laughing stock. Laugh off geeks all you like. But before you do so, remember that technology businesses are growing faster than the rest of the economy.

I attended an event in Singapore last week at which I was shown data about how the technology industry is still growing faster than others, even in economic dead zones like Europe. Around the world, technology companies are still expanding. If Australia wants some of that action, we can’t afford to be seen as a laughing stock.

That’s not defending economic growth at the expense of a right to watch vile smut. No-one has the right to gratify themselves by inflicting lifelong misery on others.

But by taking a more common sense approach to a horribly complex problem, instead of a horribly complex approach, Australia is exercising some common sense.

Simon Sharwood is Asia Pacific editor of the UK’s leading technology news website theregister.co.uk

Most commented

69 comments

Show oldest | newest first

    • Cobbler says:

      11:20am | 09/11/12

      At last the NBN will be able to live up to its potential.

      Labor just re-secured my vote.  I’m sure that’s not just a co-incidence.

    • craig2 says:

      11:56am | 09/11/12

      No worries Cobbler, you just keep on voting the party with non costed policies, to the hell with what it cost and the debt left to our great grand kids. Resecured my vote, my ass, you never left in the first place

    • Trevor says:

      01:23pm | 09/11/12

      If I were your grandkid Craig2 I’d much rather a bit of extra debt (dubious) than have to wear an oxygen mask everytime I went outside because Grandpa followed the LNP line that climate change is a global conspiracy and not to be taken seriously.

    • Phil S says:

      02:00pm | 09/11/12

      @craig2: I’m pretty sure Cobbler clearly said he was voting Labor, the government that has been in power for a while now and has its policies costed on a regular basis. The Liberals are the ones with massive blackholes in policy costings it would seem.

      Furthermore, the NBN will bring Australia in the technological future. As a physicist, I can categorically state that a fiber based system will always outperform a wireless based system. This is because they are fundamentally the same technology, the only difference is the medium the light travels through. One is well controlled, the other is not. Wireless will always be useful for mobility, but a network of wireless access points for travelers, that connect through the NBN fiber network.

      The NBN is also an investment, one that has a return. That is why:
      A) Stopping the NBN won’t save any money. It isn’t on the budget as an expense
      B) You can’t redirect the money to education/health which has no monetary return

      Our great grandkids will be wondering why we didn’t invest in fiber based technology when we had the chance like other countries are doing.

    • Lance says:

      02:00pm | 09/11/12

      Actually the NBN is not going to give you what you expect. There are massive limitations outside of the NBN’s scope that will restrict speeds and essentially bottleneck. It’s like having a high speed rail line for every street.

      Anyhow lets hope Labor do get back in again. I am going to enjoy watching them face the music when the real figures come in smile

    • Steve of QBN says:

      02:02pm | 09/11/12

      @Trevor, and the NBN will stop that nasty ol’ CO2 p’llution dead in it’s tracks huh.

    • craig2 says:

      02:21pm | 09/11/12

      Trevor: youre fricking clueless, it’s that rambling rubbish you posted which highlights your nativity about the topic.

    • craig2 says:

      03:42pm | 09/11/12

      Ok Phil, let’s build another 3 Hydro power stations, 45 wind farms, another 149 school halls, upgrade 200000 School laptops, put pink batts in EVERY single home in Australia just for starters and lets not worry about cost analysis and then tell me that debt doesn’t matter?  You see Phil, business has a way of understanding investment and cost benefit of that investment and that Phil is the problem. Where’s the money Phil to pay for labors policies, what revenue stream are we relying on Phil? Mining? Manufacturing? Tourism? Three major industries now struggling and you want to put on your labor colour rose glasses and tell me labor doing a good job? Lance is right, vote labor back in, should be a laugh with a recession around the corner.

    • Trevor says:

      03:55pm | 09/11/12

      My apologies Craig, I forgot the golden rule of hyperbolic rhetoric: it can only travel in one direction. The rhetoritcian is impervious to his own tactic and ses it for what it is. Touche.

    • LC says:

      04:17pm | 09/11/12

      Craig,

      The money for the NBN has already been set aside and a fair bit of it spent. It’s too late to go back on that now. And this money is tied to what’s been the only growth industry of late (IT), so our best chances of minimising the impact of recession (or avoiding it entirely)  is to see it finished. As someone who works in IT, I’ll tell you it’s pretty much the only good move Labor’s made over the last 5 years.

      Besides which we’re going to make a fair bit of the money invested back with all the copper cable we’re ripping up to sell to China.

    • Borderer says:

      04:22pm | 09/11/12

      @Trevor
      Grandpa followed the LNP line that climate change is a global conspiracy and not to be taken seriously.

      Ok, even if I accept the whole global warming idea, how does exactly voting for the ALP/Greens affect carbon emissions in China? India? the USA? all of which predict increases in carbon emission larger than our total? Or what if a volcano errupts again?
      I think you’re foolish because you believe in man made global warming, that’s my opinion. I know you’re foolish because you think the fate of the world hinges on an Australian election, that’s fact.

    • dovif says:

      11:30am | 09/11/12

      Conroy is one of the most incompetant ministers in this incompetant government, the fact that this men could remain in a role he is so bad at for so long tell us how talentless this government really is

      From the Filter to the massive hole in the NBN budget, to employing best friends to high paying job in the NBN, Conroy has always shown, he is not up to the task of higher office

    • Mahhrat says:

      12:38pm | 09/11/12

      If you’re going to accuse someone of incompetence, you probably need to ensure you don’t come across in exactly the same way, dovif.

      Spelling aside though, if he and this government are as bad as you say, then - again - how bad must the entire other side be for being able to do not a single thing about it?

    • dovif says:

      12:54pm | 09/11/12

      Mahhrat

      I see not a single defense for Conroy

      You seem to act like Julia .... it is Abbott’s fault .... if Abbott was PM, Conroy would not hae happened

      For once you are right

    • VJO says:

      01:15pm | 09/11/12

      You throw the word ‘incompetent’  around like the rest of Lib posters on blogs (so unoriginal)  The most incompetent govt ever was John Howard’s.  Did nothing but try to tear down all unions and then finally got kicked out of office and Howard out of his own seat.  Sounds like incompetence to me.

    • James says:

      01:33pm | 09/11/12

      Mahhrat, there is really nothing more pathetic than pointing out spelling and grammar on an internet discussion. In fact, it does nothing but indicate you’ve got nothing to say so your pretty much conceding the argument before it even starts.

      (I’m quietly curious to see if you will bother to pick out the deliberate grammar error I’ve left in above just for the sam of argument.)

    • Steve says:

      01:55pm | 09/11/12

      fail

      NBN is off budget, as acknowledged by Turnbull.

      You have shown you have absolutely no clue when it comes to the NBN. Move along now.

    • Mahhrat says:

      02:07pm | 09/11/12

      Dude, I was speaking about you, and you’ve just proven me right.

      When did I mention Abbott?  He can fail without my help.  I could care less.

      Both your comments here have lacked competence.

    • Steve of QBN says:

      02:10pm | 09/11/12

      @Mahhrat, can’t really do a lot from opposition, something to do with the numbers. 

      But I guess you can say Labor are being held to account by the Libs, what with backflips on the Nauru, internet filter, mining tax, failure to get same sex marriage across the line.  Imagine what they could accomplish if they were in government.

    • wolf says:

      02:14pm | 09/11/12

      Stephen Conroy is himself no stranger to using geography to circumvent local laws. Perhaps someone finally got through to him by explaining that using a VPN to access the internet is like going interstate to have your surrogate child and therefore local legislation is pointless?

    • JT says:

      02:39pm | 09/11/12

      @Mahhrat

      ‘‘When did I mention Abbott?’‘

      right here:

      ‘‘how bad must the entire other side be’‘

      Unless you somehow view Abbott as not connected with the other side? And what exactly can the other side do other than provide an alternative to vote for in an election? Your stupidity knows no bounds.

    • dovif says:

      02:48pm | 09/11/12

      Steve

      “massive hole in the NBN budget”, you do understand the NBN has a budget and I did not mention the federal government budget, fail!

      Mahrat said

      “how bad must the entire other side be for being able to do not a single thing about it? “

      Oh you did not mention Abbott leading the other side, lol clueless and incompetant like the liar

      As for stuff up, how about the 100 boarder protection that failed, the massive overruns in the budgets, the fail policies like Green loans, insulation etc, the list is endless

    • Conroy is out of his depth says:

      11:46am | 09/11/12

      Yet another back flip by the inept ALP, albeit a good decision for a change.

      I take it Turnbull’s denouncing of the filter since the day it was put forward by Conroy obviously got through in the end - thus the backflip.

      Thankfully at least this pathetic ill thought out plan didnt cost any life’s like the ALP’s asylum policy, yes they back flipped on that one as well - as seen by them reverting to what was mostly Howard’s previous asylum policy, yet still cant stop the boats!

    • LC says:

      02:55pm | 09/11/12

      It would nice though if the government stripped Conroy of his position, he clearly knows nothing about what he’s doing and should be replaced by someone who does.

      Or even better, remove him from the party.

      Or better still, do all that and enshrine freedom of speech, communication, association and the press in our constitution. Maybe they’ll secure my vote again sooner.

    • Borderer says:

      04:10pm | 09/11/12

      LC
      It would nice though if the government stripped Conroy of his position, he clearly knows nothing about what he’s doing and should be replaced by someone who does.

      What would you do with Ludwig, Swan, Garret, Emerson, Shorten et al? They’ve hardly got a history of coming down hard on stupidity.

    • craig2 says:

      11:53am | 09/11/12

      Wow, what a rarity, common sense from an ALP minister.

    • Black Dynamite says:

      01:31pm | 09/11/12

      on the other hand a back flip from an ALP member - not so much of a rarity.

      BD

    • Steve of QBN says:

      02:05pm | 09/11/12

      @Craig2, no.  More like needing the support of the Greens who also didn’t support the filter.  Easier to cave in now than later, like in say, 14 months time?  smile

    • LC says:

      11:53am | 09/11/12

      Too little, too late. This idea never should have left the parties’ internal discussions. The damage has been done. The money invested into it has gone down the drain, and we are a laughing stock in the international IT community. Furthermore, Conroy has yet to apologize for his constant labeling of people who’ve been telling him exactly what you’ve mentioned in the article as “pedophiles”.

      The country and the Labor brand will take the flak for this gargantuan blunder for the rest of the decade at least, and the latter deserves it. I’ll continue to show my disgust for a party that even considered it would be a good idea at the voting booth for a while to come.

      And don’t forget people, their internet surveillance plans are still on the cards.

    • LC says:

      12:27pm | 09/11/12

      Though it’s not all bad. I can’t wait until the ACL finds out about this. It’s been a bad year for them, R18 Games getting the nod for next year, bills concerning Gay Marriage hitting parliament and now this. They’ll go apesh*t. That and I won’t be needing to vote The Greens in next election to ensure it’s blocked in the Senate.

      There is a silver lining after all. wink

    • PsychoHyena says:

      12:44pm | 09/11/12

      @LC the ACL have already come out complaining because it means people can still view porn online

    • TheRealDave says:

      01:23pm | 09/11/12

      Yes, we are the ‘laughing stock of the IT world’ ......who are also calmouring around the world begging their governments to look at our NBN and implement it in their countries.

    • LC says:

      01:39pm | 09/11/12

      @ Psychohyena,

      Link pretty pretty please! I wanna see them squirm… raspberry

    • Lance says:

      02:05pm | 09/11/12

      There is a reason no other countries have anything like our NBN, not even the small countries where it would cost a fraction to implement. It’s because its a bad idea. Too costly, and in the end you won’t see that much of an increase in speed due to limiting factors. If this was such a great idea then many other countries would have done it already.

    • LC says:

      02:23pm | 09/11/12

      I quite thoroughly remember the IT’s world’s reaction when the filter was first announced, Dave. Suffice to say “laughing stock” was putting it mildly.

    • Tubesteak says:

      11:55am | 09/11/12

      Trying to block the internet like you can with physical domestic media just showed how clueless Labor has become. A back-down on this does not show that they understand what is going on. I’ll bet they still don’t understands the operational paradigm in which the internet sits

    • Mahhrat says:

      11:58am | 09/11/12

      I am glad that Conroy saw the light.

      I’m also glad that the ALP was able to show the capacity to listen to the electorate and modify their policies accordingly.

      Whether that carries into more things or not has yet to be seen, but I hope so.

    • stormland says:

      12:00pm | 09/11/12

      Yep, good work from the government on this one.
      But unfortunately, the mandatory 2 yr retention of everyone’s usage history is still happening as far as I know. This is just as bad, if not worse, than this in terms of online freedom

    • LC says:

      12:35pm | 09/11/12

      This is an issue indeed. They couldn’t pass the filter, so this is their plan B.

      If the plan was to record and database all phone calls made, or open up and photocopy every letter (and open up and photograph the contents of every parcel) sent through Australia Post, there’d be a media shitstorm and riots in the streets. They pick on the internet because it’s an easy target, and it suits the MSM, who largely still work in print and broadcast, not to report on it.

      Though again with the silver lining: If someone hacks their systems, or the systems implemented to enforce the policy, and uses the info to commit ID theft or other crimes, can we sue the government? If so, after a few lawsuits they’ll repeal the law.

    • Borderer says:

      04:33pm | 09/11/12

      LC,
      You assume this was a plan B, quaint.

    • Borderer says:

      12:01pm | 09/11/12

      So they’ve reversed back over a bad policy that should never have been considered in the first place, sounds like their assylum seeker genius in action again…. At least the didn’t require an expert panel to come up with the obvious this time.
      Yey!! Aren’t we great, we’re not following through with our stupidity!!!

    • Chris L says:

      01:57pm | 09/11/12

      “At least the didn’t require an expert panel to come up with the obvious this time.”

      Maybe they were responding to the email I sent to Conroy’s office. From the reply I received I didn’t think they bothered to read beyond the subject line.

    • Borderer says:

      03:57pm | 09/11/12

      I don’t know why you would suspect that the ALP would give a crap about what you think, they certainly don’t about the majority of Australians who are not union bosses.

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      12:08pm | 09/11/12

      All I can say is “There, that wasn’t so hard was it?”
      It is absolutely amazing that in an age of rapid advances in telecommunications, that our special “Telecommunications Minister” has cracked the code and figured out that you can block specific content by actually filtering specifically for that content! Instead of just blocking generically everything, he managed to figure out that you block the specific thing only!

      Having said that, you still won’t secure my vote- the mere fact you needed to impose a generic filter in the first place is a worrying sign. Doubly so considering how the government has responded to the Wikileaks scandal.
      So as far as I’m concerned, you have successfully repealed one bad decision, but have many more to go.

      Bring on the election!

    • Gerard says:

      06:06pm | 09/11/12

      “the mere fact you needed to impose a generic filter in the first place is a worrying sign”

      Completely agree. Any party which holds the right to freedom of speech in such contempt as to even consider this policy is a party which should be prevented from holding any power at all ever again. And the same goes for any party which does not immediately and unequivocally condemn the idea (yes, I’m looking at you LNP).

    • KK says:

      12:28pm | 09/11/12

      And how much money got blown on the precurser filter?  What are Conroys’ ties to those in charge of trying to set up a filter?  How much public purse did this little farce cost us?

    • LC says:

      01:01pm | 09/11/12

      About $44 million for the development has been spent so far.

      If it went ahead it would cost us an additional $361.40 per day per site blocked, or $11,000 per month per site blocked, or $132,000 per year per site blocked.

      That means to filter the last known blacklist of 2934 it’d cost us:
      2934 X 361.40 = $1,060,347.60 per day
      2934 X 11,000 = $32,274,000 per month
      2934 X 132,000 = $387,288,000 per year.

      This much money for a filter which does not do what it’s supposed to (protecting children, stopping pedophiles), slows down speeds by 15% and 75%, and allows for the possible violations of free speech and expression.

      Be grateful they spent as little as they did on it, because they could’ve wasted much, much more money then they have.

    • Steve of QBN says:

      02:16pm | 09/11/12

      @LC, not sure about your maths but you forgot that the filter was to be expanded to cover 15,000 sites, so if your figures are correct, it would have cost $1,980,000,000 per year.  Just how much money does the ALP think we have???

    • LC says:

      03:08pm | 09/11/12

      @ Steve,

      I was only going from the blacklist that I knew of, the one that popped up on Wikileaks during the trials, which contained 2934 sites. That is the only one which I knew of, but I also knew the list of sites would grow immensely over time.

      My figures came from people in the industry who I had discussed the issue with. They should be about right, but even if they’e off by a small-medium margin, it’s still way too much cash down the drain for something which does not work. If the figures were dead on and the blacklist was as big as you claim, the country would be bankrupt within five years if the filter was implemented.

    • Cobbler says:

      12:31pm | 09/11/12

      Everyone of you that mentions assylum policy on this topic might aswell have ‘astro-turfer’ tatooed on your foreheads.

      At least try and be subtle about it.

    • je says:

      01:33pm | 09/11/12

      @cobbler - think bungled policies. It doesn’t take too many brain cells to make the connection

    • LC says:

      03:56pm | 09/11/12

      Actually Cobbler, both issues are worthy of comparison because they were both big stuff-ups that resulted in a highly embarrassing backdown on the government’s behalf.

      The amount of egg on Conroy’s face after this saga had run it’s course is staggering, as was the amount of egg on Julia’s face after the Malaysia scheme crashed and burned.

    • Johnno says:

      12:36pm | 09/11/12

      if it was not for Swannie, Conroy would have to be just about the most incompetent lunatic in the current ministerial asylum. Interestingly it proves that Churchill was corrrect about politicians doing the right thing when all other options have been exhausted (albeit in different circumstances)

    • Marcwolf says:

      12:40pm | 09/11/12

      Now that this constriction on traffic is finally dead.. Can we get the same high speed connections that many of our Asian neighbours enjoy as standard.
      Bring on the NBN

    • hugh g recktion says:

      12:48pm | 09/11/12

      So the labor party support pedos now?? That was their argument if anyone disagreed with the filter before this.

    • Anubis says:

      12:50pm | 09/11/12

      It’s not about “seeing the light” as Mahrat said or about reversing bad policy. This is about removing potential opposition targets before the next election. They have been so pig headed about this Internet Filter from the first day in power that I doubt very much that they have dropped it because it is bad policy.

      Clean the decks of unresolved policy that will be negative for them in an election campaign, do it sufficiently far out from the election to allow the Australian public’s notoriously short memory to despatch it to the never, never - gain as many votes as possible and then, if returned to power put it through parliament quietly. It is not gone it has just been put on idle in the back room.

      Remember - this is the Gillard Government - Power by any means.

    • LC says:

      02:18pm | 09/11/12

      It’s a perfectly valid theory that they will attempt to reintroduce it post-election. If they weren’t serious about it, they wouldn’t have been so pig-headed in defending it, dropping it for an election and then bringing it back fits in with the past actions of the government (“There will be no Carbon Tax”) and as you said: “The Gillard Government - Power by any means.”

      Though the opposition could still hound them to the ends of the continent over their data retention plans though. It’s a shame at the last election they didn’t make a bigger song and dance about it, it could’ve earned them a victory.

    • Swamp Thing says:

      12:56pm | 09/11/12

      They going to sack Conroy over this-  or promote him?

    • Seano says:

      01:00pm | 09/11/12

      The filter was a stupid, unworkable policy from the start. I’m glad they’ve listened, reevaluated the situation and dropped it. Shame it took so long.

      It’s also a shame we hold politicians to such ridiculous standards that they can never change their minds when they get things wrong or circumstances change.

    • Futureproof says:

      04:45pm | 09/11/12

      ALP Green Politicans are cowards. They publically protest but vote along party lines. Ever seen a Greens senator cross the floor?  Ever seen Doug Cameron cross the floor?  The filter may have gone, but some other stupid, inane unfunded piece of twaddle will be dreamt up in Gillard’s office.  123..here it comes

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      01:03pm | 09/11/12

      Why are you showing a picture of a water chlorinator? It has nothing to do with subject…..

    • alibab says:

      01:30pm | 09/11/12

      Well spotted. They must have googled “filter” and ended up with a pool filter.

    • thomas vesely says:

      01:32pm | 09/11/12

      to illustrate conroy’s technical savvy ?

      btw, nor do paedophiles.

      the ACL would have suppressed all paedophile references and all criticism.

    • TheRealDave says:

      01:28pm | 09/11/12

      Umm, bugger it, I think i will toot my own trumpet here - I told you so!

      This was never going to happen. Ever. All they have done today is formalise the decision that was made the day Labor needed the votes of the Greens and Independants to form a government. I bet they forgot about it till today hence the announcement.

    • Utopia Boy says:

      03:04pm | 09/11/12

      Good article Simon.
      You forgot one thing though:
      The government has absolutely no right to interfere in my day to day life.

      That is the only reason needed to cancel the filter. I can see the idea of the filter being full of good intentions but it would have given the government free reign to block sites at will. Given the extreme lefts and rights of current Australian politics it would have seen web access switches flicking on and off with every federal election. Of course, the states would have wanted their piece of the action as well.
      Such filters don’t work elsewhere either - not in China, not in Africa and definitely not in the Middle East. grin For example, ThePunch.com.au is blocked at my workplace because it doesn’t reflect the “values and culture of XXXXXX (middle east country).” This would primarily be because any site that has any kind of anti muslim rhetoric quickly gets blocked.

    • SAm says:

      04:13pm | 09/11/12

      Thank god. this was Labors worst idea and Im glad to see it gone

    • Futureproof says:

      04:37pm | 09/11/12

      ...only to be replaced by a new bad idea in the future.  You have to remember, these ALP /Green flogbags are either union bover boys/girls, professonal uni students, zombie rockstars or scum sucking lawyers.  Their knowledge of the real world is non-existant.

    • Gerard says:

      05:51pm | 09/11/12

      Amazing. That ANYONE would actually believe this announcement is staggering. Here’s the critical line in the article:

      “Conroy’s decision to use Interpol’s list of child abuse sites as the basis for a limited filter”

      So they are going to set up a filter. Officially to block child porn. Until they think they can get away with adding other stuff. Salami tactics 101. Wake up Australia.

 

Facebook Recommendations

Read all about it

Punch live

Up to the minute Twitter chatter

Recent posts

The latest and greatest

The Punch is moving house

The Punch is moving house

Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…

Gentle jabs to the ribs

Superman needs saving

Superman needs saving

Can somebody please save Superman? He seems to be going through a bit of a crisis. Eighteen months ago,… Read more

28 comments

Newsletter

Read all about it

Sign up to the free News.com.au newsletter