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Australia: Reflections from ‘No Clean Feed’ rallies

Australians in seven cities demonstrated on Saturday, December 13 against the Rudd government’s plan to require Internet Service Providers to block access to websites publishing child pornography and other unsuitable and illegal content.

The scheme, referred to as the Clean Feed, has largely been attended by Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy and a $70 million cyber plan that will “block” approximately 10,000 websites banned by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Because of an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act, these blacklists will not be made available to the public.

“The government has stated that banning child porn is the motivation behind this filter, this is a noble goal,” Sam Clifford told protesters in Brisbane (and uploaded the text of his speech on the Public Polity Blog)

If we’ve got to have an internet filtering system at the ISP level it should be entirely voluntary, it should be opt-in. It is ludicrous to punish the rest of the nation with slow internet speeds and an ineffective filter in order to try and stop this threat…The Rudd government claims that the uptake of home based internet filtering sotware hasn’t been high enough to justify continued support of the program. Why not spend a fraction of the cost of the new mandatory filter on advertising the existing software?

As Twitter user irldexter points out, pornography is often traded outside websites outside the purview of the Clean Feed:

how does one stop paedophiles swap/meet ‘in game’ in virtual worlds? Also, this is trial run for MPAA/Cop yright infringement!

However, supporters of the Clean Feed, like the child protection charity Child Wise, argue that even though child pornography is illegal it remains one of the fastest growing online industries, making ISPs the key in stopping its distribution.

From the Twitter feeds, blog posts and mainstream media coverage of the protests, somewhere between 200 and 300 people participated at each event, where some braved scalding summer heat while others were drenched in rain.

Natalie Perkins posts a video collage of the Brisbane event


Brisbane nocleanfeed rally from Natalie Perkins on Vimeo.

Internet professional Jim Stewart speaks at the Melbourne rally:

Also in Melbourne, Colin Jacobs from Electronic Frontiers Australia, the group who helped organize the protests.

divabat wrote her reflections of the rally at the Brisneyland forum, leveraging her knowledge of censorship in Malaysia:

Today I was at the rally against the proposed Clean Feed (Internet filter), which is being implemented by the Aussie government under the guise of “stopping child porn”. (If you were there: I was the Malaysian speaker in black with the “Do Not Want” sign)

Never mind that this doesn't actually stop child porn – they'll just go underground. Find other ways to distribute their rubbish. It's not like there's going to be extra funding being given to the groups actually responsible for prosecuting child pornographers anyway.

The rally mainly concentrated on geeky things, very lefty things – pro-marijuana decriminalisation, anti-government sites, etc. They're definitely at risk of the filter; however, saying that those sites will be affected won't help our cause. The rest of the world doesn't care about our LOLcats….

It happens in Malaysia – the land where an upside down JPG of a flag is a “threat to national security”. This is why the filter idea pisses me off; I've seen how it goes back home, seen the danger. Ironically the Internet isn't actually censored in Malaysia – they just arrest those that speak out and scare the others into submission. Fun.

And what if some old auntie got hit by spyware because she thought she was opening an e-card by her niece? Spyware that dials up child porn? The logs would point to her and she'll get in trouble – but the spyware people go free. My aunts and uncles have computers FULL of spyware because they don't know well enough not to click on “You won this today!” or “Free icons!”.

On Twitter, a few people discussed apathy towards the issue among Australians and the mainstream media.

Kieran Salsone, tweeting as websinthe felt:

#nocleanfeed pipped by christmas lights. I hate t he media.

Derek Jenkins, tweeting as ozdj replies:

@websinthe #nocleanfeed protest pipped by apathy and a distinct l ack of interest.

As does Ben Grubb:

You won't get a lot of media coverage when you don't even get the numbers of a weekl y Falun Gong protest.

joffaboy says the Clean Feed will kill Stephen Conroy's political career:

#nocleanfeed We don't want a stupid solution to an imagined problem! Conroy is killing his career by letting his name e qual dumb initiative

In the “progressive and left-wing” Strange Times blog, a debate took place on the tactics at the various protest rallies.

Here's one from youngmarxist

The reasons I think a rally was worth it this time was that about 200 people turned up, and I’d bet that 80% of them aren’t the “usual suspects” who’ll go to any rally that’s happening. When you get people out to an event who are doing something different, I think that’s a sign you are tapping into a movement that has real power. I don’t have any reports from the other rallies yet, but at the Brisbane rally we very deliberately didn’t go in for the usual “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Mindless Chantings! Got to Go!”.


After I spoke, I wandered through the crowd handing out some pamphlets we had printed up which re-inforced the message about strategy. That meant I was able to talk, to a majority of the people who turned up, thank them for coming out in such hot weather, and hand them a pamphlet. I think that sort of personal mingling is very important for a successful rally – it’s not _just_ an opportunity for speakers to lecture the crowd, it’s about getting people talking with you and with each other, helping them to realise that we have power and we are collectively smart enough to use it and beat this censorship.

From Arthur, who attended the Melbourne rally:

Melbourne rally had a reasonable turnout with crowd staying despite light rain (will leave estimation of numbers to others).Included usual suspects but not dominated by them. I got the impression it was organized by ISPs as there were several speakers from ISP background….

Speeches aimed at reinforcing convictionswith which the speaker is quite certain the audience already agrees, are absolutely pointless (and therefore a hallmark of the pseudoleft).At the least, speeches at rallies should aim to provide advice and ammunition for the people attending, on how to convince and organize others. Better still, is to be actually organizing those who turn up directly.

Some of that was happening, but it was obviously embryonic and had not got to the stage of openly debating how best to organize and what line would win the campaign.

Several speakers and posters referred to internet “filtering”.

That, like the “no cleanfeed” campaign name, reflects success of the enemiy’s slick marketing strategy which has involved spending millions to spread the concept of “internet safety” – and similar doublespeak.

6 comments

  • When I got up to speak, everyone was hot, bothered and sweating. Sam Clifford’s speech had kept them there, his erudite and reasoned speech got going a crowd that doesn’t respond to bullshit.

    I was the only one to get boo’d (albeit by one person) at the Brisbane rally. Why? Because I suggested that the token gesture of showing up to a rally, while important, means nothing if organisations like the EFA don’t have the funding to play with the big boys.

  • Benedict

    Which other democratic country in this world has mandatory internet?
    None.
    Only countries with the likes of China, Iran ,Cuba and Saudi Arabia. Do we seriously want to stoop to there level?
    Control of the communication sources is the first step in turning into a dictatorship.

  • Wendy

    I like all the quotes in this!

    Any commenters have any good quotes from the ISP types that spoke? I’m interested in hearing more from them.

    There was a good quote from an iiNet representative in Perth on a special feature ScienceNetwork WA ran, hilarious metaphor for the filter in his interview: http://www.sciencewa.net.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2387&Itemid=710 They did a few other articles on the filter as well but that one had some great lines.

  • […] – Reflections from ‘No Clean Feed’ rallies […]

  • Thanks for the story!

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