Non-Fake Stephen Conroy on Q&A

On the same day that fake Stephen Conroy may (or may not) have lost his job, the non-fake Stephen Conroy was on ABC TV’s Q&A, where he answered questions on the proposed internet filter. Sort of.

As I see it, the debate over the introduction of the internet filter touches on several different levels:

  • Technical – Is it even possible to implement? If so, what will be the side effects to the infrastructure and user experience? How robust is the security of a scheme based on a single secret?
  • Effectiveness – Will it actually be sufficient to stop people from accessing the content?
  • Ethical – Should the government be able to mandate that ISPs block portions of the internet to all citizens? Should it be able to do so by use of a secret list?
  • Implementation/Policy – How will it be implemented? Will the decision making process/criteria be transparent? Will there be a transparent process to have a false positive removed from the list? An appeals process? How do you deal with the guilt by association of being a false positive on the list? Once the capability is in place, it is a small step to expand the legislation to include more subjectively objectionable content. What controls are in place to ensure that  this does not occur?

The show spent a lot of time with the panellists, who for the most part didn’t really understand the technology or the issues. Conroy side-stepped the one technical question by slapping out a misinterpretation of  Moore’s Law, and no one was sufficiently technically savvy to point it out. No one addressed how easy filtering software is to bypass (say using a proxy),  or thought to ask about process or protections for false positives (other than to downplay that there were any). Much of the discussion about the ethical implications of the secret filter were side tracked into a very polarised extreme Left-Right wrangling as Louise Adler (everything-should-be-free-speech) and Andrew Bolt (think-of-the-children-free-speech-equals-kids-in-danger) took extreme opposing views – neither of which were really representing either side in the filter argument. The quality of the viewer questions that were selected were not as good as I’d been hoping either, with almost none of them addressing any of the above issues in any detail. This combined with the lack of expertise of the panellists made it fairly easy for Conroy to look reasonable while never having to address the actual issues with the scheme.

The introduction of a mandatory internet filter by the government is a very serious issue, that needs serious and informed debate. Mandatory filtering technology inherently disadvantages the majority (the “good guys”) to try and effect the minority (the “bad guys”). To make matters worse, the “bad guys” can use relatively simple technologies to bypass the filter (and why wouldn’t they, when they are already breaking the rules in the first place?) which means that the only people to suffer from the scheme are the “good guys”. Brilliant.  And it only cost’s millions of dollars every year to run. Sheer genius.

I think I’ll take fake Stephen Conroy any day.


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