Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Information Online 2009: Opening Address, Senator Stephen Conroy

Before we start, let me say that there have been many blogs and tweets about the Senator's speech at the 2009 Information Online Conference, so I am going to try and avoid clogging up the Internet by repeating things that others have already said. However, by posting after the event I can bring together people's threads, comments, observations, insights, and yes even rants, and add some of my own. Se let's begin.

Most of the comments on blogs and tweets relating to this io2009 address seemed to agree that Stephen Conroy was very defensive for much of the speech. See the other resources listed below for details. This is not surprising, for while the Senator gave the Rudd Government’s line on the digital economy, the importance of access to information, and the role libraries play in the digital economy; most of us were really there to hear what he would say about the proposal to implement national internet filtering. So what did he say on the matter? Well here are some quotes and paraphrases:

* The Rudd Government's AUD $125.8 million Cyber-Safety Plan still includes funding for ISP-level content filtering.
* The Senator admitted the concerns about the viability of the ISP-level content filtering 'rested on technical aspects, as well as freedom of speech arguments'.
* In regards to the technical aspects of filtering, Stephen Conroy voice the belief that "index-based filtering of a central blacklist is technically feasible' while there are some technical issues around 'broader, dynamic analysis filtering of internet content".
* Specific to libraries, the Senator stated that "as public libraries provide internet access in a public space, funded by public money, the role of Government in ensuring broader public safety is an important one that needs to be considered".

It is very interesting to see that at the same time as Stephen Conroy is proposing Internet censorship for Australia, in the US the Supreme court has (to quote the New York Times) "refused to step in and save the Child Online Protection Act. Everyone can agree on the need to protect children from sexually explicit online material, but this misguided law tried to do it in ways that infringed on too much constitutionally protected free speech."

Unfortunately the American Library Association (ALA) is in the middle of a major web rebuild, so their online resources relating to Internet filtering are not currently available. BUT, I did find the PDF file of the ALA's Report to President-Elect Obama, in which it asks President Obama to:

* "Support legislation and fund programs that include Internet safety education, as opposed to Internet blocking and filtering;
* Emphasize the importance of parental involvement in Internet training and safety;
* Oppose any further filtering/blocking requirement for the E-rate and other programs; assure protection of First Amendment rights and other civil liberties in the online/digital environment;
* Support vigorous enforcement of existing child pornography laws; increase public awareness about reporting child porn and other illegal Internet activities;
* Conduct research on cyber-bullying and other types of behaviors on the Internet; promote discussion of First Amendment vs. personal privacy rights in the digital environment."

This ALA document also has some very interesting things to say about literacy and lifelong learning, copyright, eGovernment, library funding, as well as broadband and telecommunications policy. So if you are not aware of it check it out! Be aware this link points directly to a PDF file.

It will be interesting to see what tact the Australian Library and Information Association will take in response to the Cyber-Safety Plan and Internet filtering. Up till now they have negotiated from 'inside the tent'. While it is encouraging that Senator Conroy stated that the government will take an 'evidence-based approach to implementing its cyber-safety policy' the question remains who's evidence, and will the views of libraries, libertarians, and ISPs be heard; will freedom of speech be protected as well as child safety ensured? Only time will tell if we are heard. Hopefully, as Australian governments tend to follow the lead of US governments, we will not have a 10 year battle ahead of us as was the case in the USA.

So what is my overview of the speech? Well it was a competent, if some what uninspiring, speech that gave the government line. If the Senator's speech is any guide, the government does seems genuinely surprised by the level of debate and disquiet their Internet filtering proposals have generated. I am no fan of Tony Abbott, but the great political one liner of 2008 was from Tony when he said that 'Kevin Rudd hit the ground reviewing' However, when it comes to Internet filtering, the Rudd Government does not seem to have done enough consultation before raising the sceptre of national internet filtering. Is this more evidence of the Nanny State? I think I need a nanna nape.


Click here for a copy of my notes with a podcast of the Senator's address.

Click here to see what bloggers are saying about Senator Conroy and Internet filtering.


There is a three part video of the address on Youtube, but be warned. If you are like David Stratton, and dislike the hand-held camera school of film making, this video is going to make you a bit seasick. Still it is good the video was made and posted on the web.

Stilgherrian has posted a transcript of the Senator's address on his blog. I have included this blog post as it also has includes interesting discussions.

Click here to view the tweets about this speach.

Thanks also to Paul for the photo. The original with comment is available on Flickr.

1 comment:

Neerav Bhatt said...

If I hadn't turned on optical image stabilisation the videos would have made you waaaayy more seasick :-)