US ambassador critical of Conroy's internet filters
April 13, 2010 - 12:06PM/the AGE
"Internet has to be free" ... US ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
The US ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich has criticised the Rudd government's plan to filter the internet, saying the same goals can be achieved without censorship.
The federal government's $128.8 million Cyber Safety policy includes forcing ISPs to block access to certain websites and blacklist offensive material. Legislation to enable the scheme is set to be introduced this year.
On ABC's Q&A program last night, Mr Bleich said the "internet has to be free" and that there were other means of combating nasty content such as child pornography.
"We have been able to accomplish the goals that Australia has described, which is to capture and prosecute child pornographers ... without having to use internet filters," he said.
"We have other means and we are willing to share our efforts with them ... it's an ongoing conversation."
The US State Department has previously said it has raised concerns regarding the filtering policy with the Australian government.
The comments came just as Communications Minister Stephen Conroy finished defending the filters in a speech to The Sydney Institute last night. Senator Conroy described the policy as a modest regulatory measure that will combat illegal activity.
"For all its technical brilliance, the internet is a distribution and communications platform. Having no regulation to combat illegal activity actually weakens all that is good about the internet," he said.
"This is a modest measure, which reflects long-held community standards about the type of content that is unacceptable in a civilised society."
Senator Conroy's comments were similar to those he made in an interview with this website this month. However, web experts have recoiled at the minister's suggestions that the internet is "not special" and should be regulated like other mediums.
Simon Sheikh, chief executive of the online activist group GetUp, quickly seized on Mr Bleich's comments as further evidence that Senator Conroy's comments lacked support in the community. He called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to "step in and end this farce".
"The US ambassador is the latest to join the swelling ranks opposing the scheme, which now include Google, Yahoo, Save The Children, Reporters Without Borders, The Greens, Senator Nick Xenophon, and shadow treasurer Joe Hockey," he said.
"Over 120,000 Australians have joined GetUp's campaign against the internet filter, and polls show 86 per cent of Australians are concerned about the government's internet filter plans."
- with AAP
You beat me too the article punch. I wonder if the ambassador has any actual influence on the government or if the Communications Minister will actually listen to his criticism.
Well yes, theoretically. Our primary ISP is arguably the only company more malevolent than the legislation itself.
All in all I do not think you guys are completely ready for self government perhaps going back under the queen would be a good idea?
Hello? Hello? Now for some strange reason my phone line has gone dead ...
Hmmmm...terrible manners of course, but what a critic!
Australia pushes net censorship in Washington
April 23, 2010 - 3:16PM/the AGE
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Photo: Jessica Shapiro
Australian government representatives have recently met US officials in Washington to discuss concerns over the forthcoming internet censorship regime raised by the US ambassador to Australia and the US State Department.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has come under increasing pressure to reveal the content of discussions with US officials after the US State Department said it had "raised concerns" with Australia and the US ambassador said net censorship was not necessary.
On ABC's Q&A program this month, US ambassador Jeffrey Bleich said the same goals set out by the government on cyber safety could be achieved without censorship. Bleich said the US was willing to "share our efforts" with Australia.
He said: "The internet needs to be free. It needs to be free the way we have said the skies have to be free, outer space has to be free, the polar caps have to be free, the oceans have to be free. They're shared resources of all the people of the world."
In a letter to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Queensland Liberal Senator Sue Boyce pressured the government to release more details of its discussions with the US.
Conroy had said that the US State Department asked for "background information only" on the filtering policy.
"I find it difficult to reconcile a statement that the US government had 'raised concerns' with Minister Conroy's assertion that the US government had only asked for 'background information'," Boyce wrote.
"It is a deplorable situation when Australians have to rely upon the frankness of a foreign diplomat to provide information about bilateral discussions on a very important matter because relevant Australian ministers either dissemble or just refuse to say anything."
A spokeswoman for Smith directed all requests for comment to Conroy's office. Conroy's spokeswoman confirmed that Australian and US officials "have met in Washington to discuss the issue recently".
The spokeswoman would not reveal further details of the discussions but questioned Bleich's comments that Australia's goal was to capture and prosecute child pornographers.
"The government has never claimed ISP filtering is about catching paedophiles; it is about blocking inadvertent access to abhorrent content which includes child sexual abuse content," Conroy's spokeswoman said.
"Australia is not alone in its approach and we applaud the European Commission that announced just last week that it would require members states to ensure that websites containing child pornography are blocked."
The government plans to introduce legislation to enable the internet filtering policy in the second half of the year. It will require ISPs to block a blacklist of banned "refused classification" (RC) websites for all Australians.
Unlike the system in some other countries, which is typically limited to child porn, it is feared the Australian model to block RC content is much broader and will cover innocuous material such as euthanasia and abortion sites or graffiti videos on YouTube. ...<cont>
While the Great Fire Wall is known to censor thousands of Web sites and searches on Google, many other governments have requested the California-based search giant remove content or hand over user data. According to information released April 20, which excludes China and several other countries, Brazil and the US lead the world in the number of requests for user data and for the removal of content.
In an effort to bring transparency to censorship, and apparently also to push back against critics, Google’s new interactive world map shows country-by-country data requests and removal requests received between July 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2009.
“Government censorship of the web is growing rapidly: from the outright blocking and filtering of sites, to court orders limiting access to information and legislation forcing companies to self-censor content,” Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote on the official Google blog.
The map measures requests for removal of data such as alleged defamation, hate speech, and impersonation. It also shows Google’s compliance rate on removal requests and a breakdown of which Google-owned sites, like Blogger, Adwords, and YouTube, have contained the most removed information. In the US, for instance, Google received 123 requests to remove material from its services during the last half of 2009 and complied with 80 percent of them.
Information on China’s censorship is unavailable and regarded as a state secret and countries associated with internet censorship"such as Vietnam and Cuba"do not appear because the analysis did not track the use of filters to block online content.
“There are limits to what this data can tell us,” Google wrote in an FAQ, explaining that some requests pertain to multiple pieces of content, or multiple requests might pertain to the same piece of content. The data does not include government requests for removal of copyrighted content or for the removal of pornography, which Google says it censors on its own. The report also doesn’t indicate whether Google complied with or challenged any requests.
But it does throw a spotlight on governments when Google itself has come under fire for privacy breaches.
On April 19, Canada’s privacy commissioner sent an open letter to Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, signed by the privacy heads of nine other countries (France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom) to express their concern about privacy issues related to Google Buzz and Google Street View.
"We are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world’s citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications," the letter states, according to a copy on the Canadian government's Web site. "We were disturbed by your recent rollout of the Google Buzz social networking application, which betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws. Moreover, this was not the first time you have failed to take adequate account of privacy considerations when launching new services."