Friday, June 22, 2007

Government Wants To "Screen" All Internet Content

'Hate Sites' To Face Total Ban

It's not often you see the Attorney General, Philip Ruddock looking all flustered and aggravated. Even during the enormous public pressure of the David Hicks fiasco, Ruddock rarely lost his cool, or spoke in anything but a calm, collected, near-robotic monotone.

So what's the reason for Ruddock's sudden transformation in federal Parliament into a hand-waving, fist-clenching, voice-cracking, sweat-producing ranter?

Okay, he wasn't completely over the top, but for Ruddock, it was full drama in recent days.

Somebody is turning the vice on Ruddock's temples at the moment, and it would appear the source of this demeanour-cracking pressure is his current plans to unroll new anti-terror laws aimed at restricting the sale and distribution of books and DVDs that may "inspire" or "instruct" acts of terrorism, and his struggle to find a way to control terror-inspiring and jihadist-recruiting internet content reaching Australian eyes.

Ruddock has been told that his anti-terror content crackdown has to be in place by the time the APEC summit of world leaders begins in Sydney in September. Presumably, prime minister John Howard wants to unveil his state of control over the content of the internet, and Australia's book and DVD stores, to the world leaders and the gathered world media.

So the pressure is on Ruddock to deliver. APEC is, after all, only a few months away.

Ruddock is now sinking deep into an online war against terror talk and jihad videos, and like China, Iran and other restrictive regimes have already learned, filtering internet content, or "screening" it before it reaches Australian-based eyes, can be one hell of a big ask.

The jury is still out on whether it can actually be done effectively at all.

Ruddock has apparently been hanging out in the cyber-jihad-zone and he's shocked by what he's seen and read and heard :

"It's very disturbing and I have been on some of the chatrooms and sites that promote terrorism," he said.

"At the moment the internet is the biggest problem in this war and we are only going after people we can get our hands on, but that is changing," Mr Ruddock said.

"We are looking at ways and means of using technology that detects hate publications and removes them.

"To do it effectively we will need the help of law enforcement agencies in the US and Europe."

Mr Ruddock revealed he had himself visited terrorist recruitment websites - to gain an understanding of how they operated - and believed many of them presented a "dire threat".

"But how do you go about stopping something that crosses so many jurisdictions?" he asked.

You try, and mostly fail. Unless, of course, you can convince the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world that the entire contents of the internet should be somehow "screened" for "hate sites" through a series of 'gateways'.

Unless Ruddock's cyber anti-terror squads are looking at beta-stage software not currently being debated anywhere online, he will eventually discover just how incredibly hard it is to cut off the lines of online communications between Al Qaeda commanders and their enthusiastic wannabe jihadis across the world.

That's one of the most shocking ironies of the 'War on Terror'. The very freedom of communication and exchange of ideas so cherished by Western democracies allows Al Qaeda to recruit virtually at will anywhere they want to. If they can find the audience, that is.

Six years ago, some of the 9/11 terrorists apparently communicated by burying messages deep into the background of porn sites. Even now, anti-terror fighters in cyberspace are having trouble cracking communication lines like those used by the 9/11 terrorists.

But Ruddock is talking of a solution. This would presumably take the form of a 'gateway' forced onto every internet company and server in Australia. Or locked down at the source in the government's half-privatised new national broadband plan.

But the means of content control that Ruddock is thinking of would change the very nature of internet freedom in Australia, for everyone. And in doing so, it would impact hugely on our freedom of speech and freedom to communicate ideas and information.

If "hate" DVDs and books are to be banned from retail stores, then obviously their digital online versions would also eventually face a complete ban.

As per usual in such talk of "hate" speech and "hate" books and DVDs, there is next to no clear idea from the Attorney General on what "hate" actually means, and who will be deciding what material should fall under this restriction.

Even on the introduction of "legislation making it an offence to produce or disseminate material that 'advocates' terrorism" Ruddock is facing very real challenges and dissent from state governments, the arts community and civil libertarians.

His message to those who take offence at his plans is simple : Oppose the new laws all you want, exercise your freedom, it won't make a lick of difference :

"The Commonwealth is going to legislate on it anyway. I have worked with the states to find a solution and all they are doing is frustrating it," he said.

"This needs to be introduced before APEC (in September). It needs to be introduced right away because the public expects it."

Do they? Must have missed those poll results.

Philip Ruddock officially classes the internet as one the biggest threats to Australia's national security.

Think about that. The internet is a threat to Australia's national security. And this is coming from the mind of the Attorney General.

It's not hype. This is a reality. This is the way the government views the most extraordinary communication system in the history of humanity. As a threat.

Ruddock has little time for those who say that his plans to lockdown the internet, and introduce anti-hate DVD and literature restrictions, impinge on freedom of speech and expression.
"The idea we should be stepping back and saying terrorism is not a serious problem is ridiculous," he said.
Almost as ridiculous as believing you can lockdown the internet in Australia without causing chaos in the digital economy. You can't do it. Unless, of course, you can install a new national partly government controlled, internet access system, aiming to reach into almost every home, school, library and business in the country.

Fortunately for Ruddock, the federal government is now planning to unroll a nationwide broadband network, half fibre-half-wireless.

The government's national broadband system, and Ruddock's plans to 'gateway' every bit of content that reaches an Australian-based laptop or monitor, actually falls into line with new plans emerging across the world to not only restrict access to the internet, and control all the content, for viewers and publishers alike, but to actually dump the entire worldwide web V.1, as it now stands, and begin again.

But begin again with all the controls that the US, the UK, the EU, China and now Australia have clearly already discussed and decided should be set into the bedrock of the new worldwide web from day one.

The federal government's new nationwide broadband plan presumably will be designed and outfitted to allow Ruddock's dreams of a gateway "screening" or "filtering" system to be built into the entire system. He's been briefed on this, and he either doesn't understand the new software, or he is waiting to see some solid proof that the kind of screening he wants will actually work.

Access the government's half-owned broadband network in 2010 and you will activate the RuddockGate "screening" programs.

Now all the government has to do is work out a way to charge a fee for every e-mail sent and received within Australia and they will be praised by the UN and the EU until their faces flush red in embarrassment.

The government is hoping they can present their plans to the planet's most powerful leaders at APEC in September, and show them all that Australia can lead the world... controlling access to the internet.