25 May 2010

Pot and Kettle

Given the level of criticism the Australian government has faced for its extensive internet censorship scheme and laptop porn searches, the condemnation directed at Google by Stephen Conroy (the Minister responsible driving the filtering scheme) because of, amongst other things, its approach to privacy, looked desperate and petulant:
In a very personalised attack, and with the freedom offered by parliamentary privilege, Senator Conroy singled out Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, describing his approach as "a bit creepy, frankly"...
Coming from a digital libertarian or privacy advocate, I might find that an understandable sentiment, if possibly a little overstated, but coming from Conroy, it is laughable. This is a man who considers himself fit to define what internet content is "inappropriate" for Australian's to view and should be censored, with the definition going way beyond any boundaries which could be considered reasonable in a liberal democracy. He's part of a government which has created a regime which enables laptops to be examined at the border for "pornography," be it professional or home-made. Creepy Conroy really isn’t in a position to point fingers at anybody else.
...He also said that Google considered itself above governments:...
If they do, then, quite frankly, good!

Google has had its faults and failings, particularly on privacy issues, but they are definitely the lesser of two evils when compared to governments such as the one inflicted on Australia. Google can't inflict violence on me if I don't do what they wish (unless of course the government does it on their behalf), it can’t demand from me more than I choose to give them, it can’t enforce a right to be the only legitimate provider of its services in a given geographical area (and to be fair to Google, compared to many in their industry, they’ve got a pretty good record when it comes to not attempting to create "lock-in.").

It seems to be a fairly common facet of the authoritarian politicians’ mindset that they consider themselves to be better representatives of us than people or organisations that we’ve freely chosen to deal with, even though the government almost never receives anybody’s explicit consent.
..."When it comes to their attitude to their own censorship, their response is simply, 'trust us'. That is what they actually state on their website: 'Trust us'."
I’m tempted to just put the words "pot" and "kettle." The Australian government has a censorship list. It is maintained in secret and Conroy condemned the leaking of a version of it on Wikileaks. There is no clear review or appeal process. How are the Australian public supposed to have confidence in the process? The implication from the government is clear – "trust us." That's another common facet of the authoritarian politician - they consider it perfectly reasonable to vilify others for following courses of action which they follow routinely.

1 comment:

Mr Civil Libertarian said...

"That's another common facet of the authoritarian politician - they consider it perfectly reasonable to vilify others for following courses of action which they follow routinely."

Yep. That about sums it up for me. Governments are in the business of unethical acts, whilst also being in the business of stopping us (or trying to) being unethical.

As for the Australian obsession with porn, I wrote a coursework earlier this year on internet pornography and came across the rather odd 2008 New South Wales case of Simmons v McEwen. The defendant possessed cartoon porn of the Simpsons, including Bart and Lisa. The issue before the court was- get this-
"whether a fictional cartoon character is a “person” within the meaning of the statutory offences or, to be more precise, is a depiction or representation of such a “person”"

They decided- yep! Cartoons are now kiddy porn. Very odd.