Archive for the Politics Category

Censorship Enforcement Activity

There wasn’t a lot of detail about the Department of Internal Affairs in the 2009 budget. There was one entry for a possibly relevant new initiative, however:

  • Censorship Enforcement Activity – $611,000

I wonder if this is what they were referring to in their letter to me:

6. What is the projected budget (if available) for the content-filtering service for the 2009/2010 financial year?

The future implementation of the website filtering system will require an appropriation of additional funding to allow it to be offered to all ISPs. It is the convention not to release budget information prior to the Government announcements, which take place around the middle of May. I am therefore withholding this information in terms of section 9(2)(f)(iv) of the Official Information Act (to maintain the constitutional convention for the time being which protect the confidentiality of advice tendered by Ministers of the Crown and officials).

Time to find out.

Comment on the IA Response

I have now reviewed the response from Internal Affairs about their internet-filtering scheme.

Overall, it looks like a reasonable attempt to create a system that will efficiently and fairly block people from viewing illegal material on the Internet. The process for adding sites looks reasonably robust and, assuming they are doing what they’re saying, the sites are reviewed monthly.

I do have a number of issues with the system, including:

  • the system can only block based on internet address (IP address). It is common to have multiple websites on one IP address, but the internet-filtering system will block access to all of them even if only one of them is hosting objectionable material.
  • the list is being kept secret and therefore people cannot check to see that the system is not being abused (as was found to be the case in Australia recently). I contrast this with the activities of New Zealand’s Chief Censor who publishes a publicly accessible database listing the material that has been banned.

My more serious concern is that I see that this is a “softly-softly” first step to implementing mandatory censorship of the Internet. Not many people are prepared to defend access to child pornography and, after all, the scheme is only voluntary. However, “objectionable” material includes many categories other than child abuse and I do not expect the voluntary nature of the scheme to remain that way (either through legal mandate or other pressures). As the scheme expands I believe there will be more potential for abuse and the deliberate blocking of legitimate material.

I am now following up some of the issues raised with Internal Affairs, the Minister, and the Chief Censor.

I have also asked the Chief Ombudsmand for comment on the Department’s withholding of the list of banned sites.

The Response from Internal Affairs

Internal Affairs have responded to my request for information and I include the text of the response here (scans of the letter: page 1, page 2, page 3).

Once again I am impressed by the response and very grateful for the Official Information Act.

I will post my comments on the letter at a later date.

Continue Reading “The Response from Internal Affairs” »

Government Censorship of the Internet

The Internal Affairs department in New Zealand is currently running an internet filtering scheme. They choose which sites to block and then publish a list that ISPs can use to block access to them.

It’s a voluntary scheme and ISPs don’t have to use it. It is known that Telstra Clear does use it.

I have seen claims that it’s only for the worst forms of child pornography.

I expect that once the scheme is proven to work:

      It will not stay voluntary.
      It will be extended to other forms of material.

I would like to know more about it, and therefore:

Dear Internal Affairs,

I understand that Internal Affairs is running a voluntary “clean feed” Internet content filtering project in conjunction with a number of ISPs including Telstra Clear.

Under the Official Information Act I would like the following information about this project:

1. What is the underlying technology used to implement the filter?
2. What law or regulation or other legal contrivance gives Internal Affairs the authority to create and supply the content-filtering service?
3. How is the content-filtering service funded?
4. How much did the content-filtering service cost to run in the 2007/2008 financial year?
5. What is the budget for the content-filtering service in the 2008/2009 financial year?
6. What is the projected budget (if available) for the content-filtering service for the 2009/2010 financial year?
7. By what process are sites/addresses chosen and added to the list?
8. What types of content get a site/address added to the list?
9. Please send me a current copy of the list including the reasons for the inclusion of each site/address. (A digital copy in some openly available format will suffice.)
10. Which ISPs are currently using or working towards using the list to filter their Internet feeds?
11. What information is stored when a request to a site is blocked?
12. What information is stored when the request is intercepted but approved?

Yours faithfully,

Thomas Beagle

Drinking Liberally – Andrew Little

Another Thursday, another Drinking Liberally at the Southern Cross. Tonight’s guest was Andrew Little who manages to be President of both the EPMU and the Labour Party at the same time.

He talked generally about the situation the world is in and suggested that it means the end of the finance-centric ideologies of the last 20-30 years. Instead we now had a chance to start talking about social justice, about providing useful and productive work, and generally recasting our politics and economy in a way that serves the people and not the corporations. There weren’t a lot of details about what that might mean.

Then it came to time to questions – and what interested me was that about half of them (including mine) were some version of “That left wing agenda sounds fine but it doesn’t sound like the Labour Party we’ve had for the last nine (or 25) years, how are you going to get it accepted by them, let alone the general populace?”

Unfortunately I thought he did a very poor job of answering it. First he said that he thought they were already there, secondly that the Labour Party was internally democratic, and finally that they had to follow and be led by general opinion (as different from lead and inspire!). In other words, he didn’t see the same gap between his rhetoric and the current Labour Party that a number of people in the room saw. And bear in mind that the Drinking Liberally crowd is generally pretty pro-Labour!

Speaking as someone who thinks we need Labour to reinvent and repackage itself it was kind of disheartening – and pushes me further towards the Greens.

P.S. I think we’re done on section 92a as a topic. Thanks.

Drinking Liberally – Grant Robertson

Went to Drinking Liberally again last night, this time to hear Grant Robertson (Labour MP for Wellington) speak about the public service. It was a pretty standard defence of the worth of the public service and some of the major points included:

– no one quite agrees how to define it (should it include local government, should it include police and nurses, etc)
– that you can choose statistics from the past that prove that it hasn’t been growing per capita
– that it’s silly to try and divide them into “good” frontline staff and “bad” backroom staff, as they’re all needed to provide the functions that we want from government
– that the National government want to permanently reduce the public service
– that the National government has put the kibosh on pay equity reviews
– that privatisation of public services is bad

I was amused to see how keen he was to say that it’s not just a Wellington thing with, if I remember correctly, only 40% of “core public service staff” employed in Wellington.

All in all I thought the session was a tad boring. I generally agreed with most of it and didn’t really find it that informative. There was also an interesting contrast in style between the opinionated but not partisan Brian Easton and the very obviously partisan Grant Robertson.

While there I also had a chat to Mr Holloway about good old section 92a. In particular, we were talking about what he thinks it is possible to achieve within the current legal and cultural framework (i.e. ignoring the whole ‘copyright is obsolete/immoral/stupid’ argument). His position is that we need to find an acceptable way to help enforce copyright or else we’ll get another unacceptable way like section 92a.

If I understand him correctly, he seems to be arguing for changing the role of the Copyright Tribunal (yep, I didn’t know we had one either, apparently they very occasionally mediate disputes about licensing schemes) to have some sort of jurisdiction over copyright/piracy disputes. He further thinks that the desirable outcome would be where copyright infringers should have to pay fines rather than having their internet disconnected.

I agree with the idea that fines are a more appropriate punishment but I’m not sure about trying to repurpose the Copyright Tribunal in this way, especially as I didn’t get a chance to ask as to how he would see this working.

Hybridised Elections

US presidential election – Nov 4th.

NZ national election – Nov 8th.

Question for tonight: Will the result of the US presidential vote have an influence on the NZ election?

I feel that it should have an impact… somehow. But I’m not sure what it would be. What if McCain wins? What if Obama wins?

A Climate Change Manifesto

[Some of the things I believe about climate change and our environment, arranged in such a way as to resemble an argument. Comments are welcome, if I find them suitably compelling I’ll publish a new version with them incorporated.]

That nature has no desire to keep Earth a nice place for humans to live.

That climate change has happened in the past and will happen again.

That climate change will result in changes that make our world a place less suited to human existence.

That the climate is a chaotic system and that we can not know what will happen with it next.

That the current predictions of what is happening with climate change are the best we have to go on and are worth paying attention to.

That there is a good chance that some sort of feedback loops will interfere with predicted climate change.

That the effects of one strong positive feedback loop overrides any number of negative feedback loops.

That human activities are influencing climate change.

That the modern consumer lifestyle directly contributes to climate change.

That people greatly enjoy the modern consumer lifestyle and that many people who do not currently enjoy it aspire to do so.

That individuals can reduce their personal contribution to climate change.

That those individual changes send useful messages to corporations and politicians that will influence behaviour in wider populations.

That these individual and collective changes in behaviour are insufficient to seriously reduce the human impact on climate change.

That there will never be the political will to voluntarily give up the modern consumer life style.

That humanity would rather ride the spiralling corpse of the current ecosystem down into the abyss than voluntarily give up the modern consumer life style.

That this is likely to happen.

That I don’t want it to.

That we can possibly develop new non-damaging technologies to both replace those that contribute to climate change, as well as ameliorate the effects of other technologies’ contributions to climate change.

That these technologies will need significant funding to be developed.

That commercial bodies may not see the benefit in funding the development.

That some form of collective funding (i.e. government) will be required.

That it is is better to spend more of our current resources on developing these technologies than to spend them on reducing activities that contribute to climate change.

That this doesn’t excuse us from trying to reduce activities that contribute to climate change.

That we should get on with it.

The Strangely Inappropriate Hillary Clinton

Stuff is reporting that Hillary Clinton has been telling anti Helen Clark jokes!

The gaffe came in a chummy interview with American magazine Newsweek, when journalist Karen Breslau asked Mrs Clinton for a joke: “Here’s a good one. Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand: her opponents have observed that in the event of a nuclear war, the two things that will emerge from the rubble are the cockroaches and Helen Clark. [Laughs]”

Stuff is more amused by Clinton describing Helen Clark as the “former Prime Minister” even though she’s very much the current one.

Personally I think it’s very strange that an apparently serious candidate for the US presidency is telling jokes about the leaders of other countries. I mean, I know we’re not exactly allies any more, but we did send some symbolic troops to the wars she supported in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I wonder what she was thinking.

There are two political issues hitting the media at the moment.

The first is about Labour encouraging their campaigners to give out government pamphlets in an attempt to publicise the wonderful actions of Labour’s term in government. Personally I don’t have a problem with this and I think it’s a bit of a storm in a teacup – as long as the pamphlets aren’t being written for the purpose of campaigning.

The second issue is about how Labour wants to portray National as asset strippers. John Key cleverly spiked Labour’s guns with his declaration that National wouldn’t sell any state owned assets in their first term, and now Clark is reaching a bit by trying to say that it’s just because they’ll be selling them off in their second term (although I do wonder if she meant to imply that she thought National would not only win the next election but the one after it as well!)

But this post isn’t actually about these two issues. While I think everyone involved in both issues is spinning furiously for their own ends and that sometimes this results in people getting a bit carried away and the quality of the debate starts to slide into the gutter, I just want to say how delighted I am that both of these debates are actually about substantive policy issues.

The first is part of the ongoing debate about campaign financing, the second returns to the issue of what the national should own collectively against what should be owned privately. They’re not about someone seeing a prostitute, or when they went to church last, or whether they once did drugs twenty years ago.

I know we’re not immune from obsessing about all those things as well, but at least in this case we can be pleased that our “silly media beatups” and “manufactured political controversies” are about topics that do rightfully belong in the political sphere.