Adelaide Free Speech Rally

Mark Newton, May 30 1999

Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exorcised for the good of it's victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under the robber barons then under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will, torment us without end, for they will do so with the approval of their own conscience.

C.S. Lewis

This speech was ad-libbed (I didn't know I was speaking at all until ten minutes before the event). I've tried to be accurate, but may have substituted the odd bit I would have liked to have said, rather than what I actually said -- The human mind works that way sometimes :-)

Feel free to email me if you think I've grossly misrepresented myself, anyway.

I've written more on this issue, including a submission to the Senate Select Committee on Information Technology.

Good afternoon to you all, and thank you for coming.

My name is Mark Newton, and I've been working in the Internet industry for many years. Like virtually everyone else in the industry, I'm now having serious doubts about my long-term ability to carry out my career of choice in this country.

I was reading a book last night by Geoffrey Robertson, and in this book he talked briefly about the history of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D. H. Lawrence. This book, now considered a classic of literature and taught in high-school English classes, was banned in the UK and Australia during the 1960's as an obscene publication.

Geoffrey Robertson described the lawsuit which finally, after many years, forced the ban to be lifted in England. However, in Australia, Robert Menzies, the man it is said that John Howard desperately wishes to emulate, upheld the ban!

Why did he do this? The answer was simple: Mr. Menzies said, "... it's not the kind of book I'd want my wife reading." It was that simple. It's not the kind of book I'd want my wife reading.

The Australian Customs Service diligently protected Robert Menzies' wife, prosecuting anyone who dared to attempt to import this horribly obscene publication into Australia. Not only did Mr. Menzies deny the book to his wife, he made the decision to ban it for everyone else too.

Now we come to 1999. John Howard gave an interview on Adelaide's 5AN on Thursday this week. When asked about Internet censorship, he said that there was a lot of stuff on the Internet he didn't think his children should see. It's Menzies all over again, isn't it?

In the lead up to this legislation, Mr. Howard and Senator Alston have been talking up a storm about the technical feasiblity of "content filtering," a technical term for what we know of as "censorship". One of the ways that content filtering can apparently be carried out is by means of filtering packages, or "censorware." One of the censorware software packages named by Mr. Alston during the woefully short public debate on this issue is the somewhat ironically named product known as SmartFilter.

SmartFilter has been examined at some length, and like every other censorware package yet evaluated, it doesn't stand up to its own advertising. Despite claims that the secret black-list it uses is reviewed by humans, it blocks all kinds of things which no human would ever say were unsuitable for children, such as the US Declaration of Independence, the complete works of William Shakespere, and much, much more. Perhaps SmartFilter isn't all that smart after all.

One of the sites incorrectly blocked by SmartFilter is the website of something known as Project Gutenberg. This project has undertaken the monumental task of transcribing classics of literature into electronic form so that they can be made available for free to all on the Internet.

This site has been blocked by SmartFilter under the category of "Criminal Skills". Nobody knows why an online library would be blocked as "Criminal Skills", that's just a fact of life when you're talking about censorware. It is simply technologically impossible for censorware to work in the way its manufacturers claim it works, due to the size of the internet and the stupidity of computers.

Ironically enough, one of the books in the immense unseen library of articles which are banned by SmartFilter is Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence, the same book that was banned by Robert Menzies.

We've come full circle: Welcome back to the 1950s. This is 21st century morality, John Howard style, or a glimpse of the future though Richard Alston's eyes.

So I ask you all, is this the kind of world you want to leave behind for your children?