Monday, October 29, 2007

'Violent' Pro-Howard Blog Gets Blocked By Government's Web Filters

Is Tim Blair's blog really too dangerous to be viewed by children?

Does it contain adult content? Offensive content? If you visit Blair's blog, will you come across 'High Impact Material' that falls under an X-rated classification as determined by the Howard government censors?

A reader e-mailed Blair recently to let him know that the Howard government's "Won't Someone Please Think Of The Children?" free internet censorship program rates Blair's blog as "violent" and blocks access.

The Howard government recently unfurled an $80 million-plus NetAlert program to provide free content filtering software to all Australian families.

The filtering software responsible for the virtual banning of Blair's blog in tens of thousands of Australian households is called Intergard, which also blocks all peer-to-peer file sharing, and appears to allow third parties (outside the home) to access web surfing histories, without the computer's users being aware.

Such outside access to temporary or hard drive computer files, via free programs like 'net nanny' content filters, are known in intelligence circles as a "backdoor" and are usually accessible through the use of auto-updates, as the Howard government's own content filtering Q & A page admits :
These updates are automatically added each time you connect to the internet.

A government that could get their hands on records of the web surfing habits of possibly hundreds of thousands of Australian children and teenagers, through the sharing of information derived from content filtering programs, would be a very well informed government indeed. How many kids are visiting, say, the Kevin07 site, and for how long? What information are they downloading from that site? How many times are they viewing Kevin07 videos?

Valuable information for a government. Particularly if they happened to be in the middle of an extremely grim election campaign.

But back to Blair and his X-rated "violent" blog.

Exactly how does the Howard government's NetAlert content filtering programs go about determining which sites should be blocked, or are deemed to contain prohibited content?

Some info from the NetAlert site :
Internet content filters can be used to help filter offensive web pages.

Some internet content filters use a variety of techniques to detect unwelcome content. One of the most common are ‘black’ or ‘exclusion’ lists to block access to content. These ‘black’ or ‘exclusion’ lists contain websites or website pages that have been deemed to carry inappropriate content...

If the user types in an internet address or click on a link to content which is on a black list, they will be blocked from viewing that content.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regularly update a list of prohibited content. These websites, or web pages, are blocked by the free internet content filters being provided by the Australian Government’s NetAlert – Protecting Australian Families Online initiative.

Prohibited content is determined according to classification guidelines under the National Classification Scheme.

The Australian Government has implemented an online content regulatory scheme which allows the Australian Communications and Media Authority to require websites hosted in Australia to ‘take down’ prohibited material.

Prohibited content is internet content within the classifications RC (‘refused classification') or X 18+.

Certain kinds of extreme content are refused classification...

The RC classification includes content that contains: child pornography; bestiality; excessive violence or sexual violence; detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use.

A third category of strong content is also regulated. Content classified R 18+ includes content that depicts high level violence, implied or simulated sexual activity or other high impact material.

High impact material.

How's that for a loose and open-to-personal interpretation definition of what can or should be censored?

What is particularly interesting about the above definitions is that you would presume it refers strictly to violent or pornographic images or photographs or videos. Not so.

As Blair has discovered, simply writing about certain subjects, or allowing your commenters to call for the violent deaths of journalists and celebrities (even if they're supposedly 'joking') may be enough to get your site blocked by Howard government online censors.

Or maybe it was Blair's publication of the infamous 'MoToons' that got his site on the blocked list.

Whatever the reason, this is extremely disturbing news.

How will young Australians learn about Evil Lefties, the Great Global Warming Conspiracy, Al Gore's bizarre cold-weather attraction, President Bush's non-plastic turkey, unhinged columnists for the Melbourne Age and David Marr's clearly absurd claims that the Howard government is restricting debate and censoring free speech (oh, right) if they can't get the scoop from Tim 'High Impact Material' Blair?

I'm sure Communications Minister Helen Coonan will move very fast indeed to have Blair's site removed from the blocked list, possibly within a day or two.

The Howard government needs every supportive blogger it can get.