Internet, government and society: reframing #ozlog & #openinternet

Having followed the data logging issue peripherally, and the filtering issue quite closely for a number of years, I am seeing the same old tug of war between geeks and spooks, and am increasingly frustrated at how hard it is to make headway in these battles.

On one hand, the tech/geek community are the most motivated to fight these fights, because it is close to our hearts. We understand the tech, we can make strong technical arguments but the moment we mention “data” or “http”, people tune out and it becomes a niche argument, easily sidelined. It is almost ironic that is it on these issues the Federal government have been the most effective on (mainstream) messaging.

The fact is, these issues affect all Australians. When explained in non tech terms, I find all my non-geek friends get quite furious, and yet the debates simply haven’t made it into the mainstream, apart from a few glib catch phrases here or there which usually err on the side of “well if it helps keep children safe…”.

I think what is needed is a huge reframing of the issue. It isn’t just about the filter, or data logging, or any of the myriad technical policies and legislation proposals that are being fought out by the technical and security elite.

This is about the big picture. The role of the Internet in the lives of Australians, the role of government in a digital age, and what we – as people, as a society – want and what we will compromise on.

I would like to see this reframing through our media, our messaging, our advocacy, and our outreach to non-tech communities (ie – MOST of the community). I challenge you all to stop trying to tell your friends about “the perils of data logging on our freedoms”, and start engaging friends and colleagues on how they use the Internet, what they expect, whether they think privacy is important online in the same way as they expect privacy with their snail mail, and what they want to see in the Internet of the future.

I had a short chat to my flatmate about #ozlog, staying well away from the tech, and here is what she had to say:

What annoys me is how the powers that be are making decisions that can or will affect our lives considerably without any public consultation. The general public should be educated on the implications of these kinds of laws and have a say. To me, this is effectively tampering with the mail, which has all the same arguments. If we start just cutting corners to “catch the bad guys” then we start losing our rights and compromising without consideration, potentially to no effect on crime. It’s a slippery slope.

Pamela Martin – flatmate and non-geek, she still has a VCR

It’d be great to see a series on TV about the Internet and society, something that gets normal people to talk about how they use the Internet, what they expect from the Internet, from government, and to work through some of the considerations and implications of tampering with how the Internet works. Some experts on security, networking, online behaviours and sociology would also be interesting, and let’s take this debate to the mainstream. The tech, security and politically elite too often disregard the thought that “normal” people will get it or care, but this is in fact, possibly the most important public debate we need to have right now.

I’ve written a little more on these ideas at:

Would love to hear your thoughts.

It is worth noting that during the big filter discussions in 2009/10 I was working for Senator Kate Lundy. Most of our correspondence up till that date were, to be frank, pro filter letters that argued that people wanted less porn to protect the children. IE – the arguments were generally idealogically based and little to do with the actual proposed policy, but supporting letters just the same. The Senator blogged about her thoughts on the issue which caused (over a few posts) several thousand comments, largely considered and technical comments against the policy which were really helpful both in building a case and in demonstrating that this is a contentious issue. I was and remain very proud to have worked for a politician with such integrity.

At the same time I saw a lot of people fighting against the filter using nastiness, personal attacks, conspiracy theories and threats. I would like to implore to all those who want to fight the good fight: take a little time to consider what you do, the impact of your actions and words, and whether in fact, what you do contributes to the outcome you are seeking. It is too easy to say “well it’s gonna happen anyway” and get all fatalistic, but I assure you, constructive, diligent and overall well constructed advocacy and democratic engagement does win the day. At the end of the day, they work for us, we just sometimes need to remind them, and the broader “us” of the fact.

UPDATE: This post was initially inspired by a well written SMH article which reported that the data logging issue had been put deftly back on the table (after it being shelved for being too contentious) with questionable claims:

Her apparent change of mind may be a result of conversations with the Australian Federal Police, who have long pushed for mandatory online data retention. Neil Gaughan heads the AFP’s High Tech Crime Centre and is a vocal advocate for the policy.

”Without data retention laws I can guarantee you that the AFP won’t be able to investigate groups such as Anonymous over data breaches because we won’t be able to enforce the law,” he told a cyber security conference recently.

Now, I’m not involved in Anonymous but I’m going to make an educated guess that there is probably a reasonably high rate of tech literate people who understand and use encryption and other tools for privacy and anonymity. Data logging is ineffective with these in place so the argument is misleading at best.

I was pleased and heartened to see the SMH article get a lot of attention and good comments.

This is only the beginning.

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3 Responses to Internet, government and society: reframing #ozlog & #openinternet

  1. Well said Pia. It has always concerned me that the discussion gets sidelined to an “internet” thing – when it is so much more.

    Reframing is essential – the way we operate, communicate, work has changed dramatically over time and what may been appropriate “survellience” 50, 20, even 15 years ago – may not be now. However, how do we really know when we can’t see the whole story.

    It concerns me when I hear parents support the use of mandatory filtering or tracking – sure, on the surface it seems safer but it’s the thin end of the wedge. Who defines what is filtered or tracked? How is that defined? What say do we, as the public, have in that? and…. who watches the guards? We simply do not have enough information or have had enough discussion to be making informed decisions.

    Love your point about encryption and anonymity tools – it is so true. Even if legislation allowed us to track, could we, what would the cost to do so and what would the end result really be? Would we be better off or just poorer and disgruntled? What are our other options?

    I agree with Pamela, to an extent, it’s like knowing that the mail you receive will be opened and read by a Govt. employee before you get it, or your phone calls are monitored each time you use your phone. How many people would be happy knowing that they are subject to such scrutiny?

    Education is definitely the key – and every voice counts.

  2. Thanks for the article Pia, lots of good points made :)

    One thing I like to remember is that bad ideas that produce bad outcomes tend to fall apart. If a community allows those governing to put in place policy that begins to disaffect them over the longer term then, with time, the error should be identified, proven and corrected.

    An example might be community housing. Large multi-story blocks to house people on low income might get promoted as a good policy even in the face of a vocal and informed minority shouting it down. However, after a generation of people live through the effects of such an approach to prove that the idea isn’t so great, you would hope that the pool of vocal opponents would be larger, more informed and more organised.

    One of the good things about Internet policy is you shouldn’t have to wait for an entire generation to live through the outcomes of bad policy before working on a fix. And, you don’t get stuck with hundreds of millions invested in hard infrastructure (networking, compute, storage, etc can all be re-tasked on conclusion of a bad idea).

    Rather than push a potential geek vs spook debate into the mainstream, it would be nice to know that no matter what policies get implemented there remains constant, long term, peer reviewed, open and transparent debate on the effectiveness of these initiatives. That is the debate the general public is more likely to engage with, or get fired up about if things are going poorly :)

    I do also agree that the framing of any debate should remain largely non technical. The real world is fundamentally much more interesting that the technology we are using to help us live, work and communicate within it.

  3. Dan says:

    Thanks. I tried to address it in a video but may have gone off the rails speaking about how to bypass it rather than just encouraging people to speak out against it.

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