December 18th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Dr Strangeloves' Brave New World

ECONOMICS: Australia's $403 billion foreign debt: hail the banana republic!

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Utter failure of the Latham experiment

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Where Labor failed itself - and Australia

SCHOOL EDUCATION: 'Fuzzy maths' doesn't add up

INTERNET PORNOGRAPHY: Telcos in bed with pornographers

ABORTION: Late-term abortion in Australia

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Eureka - we lost it! / The coming down of the wall / Favourite Books / Home alone

EASTERN EUROPE: Ukraine turns to the West?

PAKISTAN: Military corruption robs country's poor

UNITED NATIONS: Secretary-General Kofi Annan must resign

Long live Eureka (letter)

Kath and Kim land (letter)

Crusades re-examined (letter)

CINEMA: Japanese animation sweeping the West

BOOKS: D-DAY, by Martin Gilbert

BOOKS: THE DICTATORS: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, by Richard Overy

BOOKS: EPIDEMIC: How Teen Sex is Killing our Kids, by Meg Meeker MD

Books promotion page

Telcos in bed with pornographers

by Tim Wallace

News Weekly, December 18, 2004
Telstra BigPond's misdirection of fans of Casey Donovan - the young Australian Idol singer who made good - to the website of Casey Donovan, the dead porn-film swinger who made wood, contained at least one almost-delicious irony: here was the nation's leading internet service-provider being caught, as it were, in its own sticky world-wide web. In the words of BigPond's current advertising campaign, big surprise.

Telstra, along with the rest of the telecommunications industry, has long argued that internet service-providers (ISPs) should not have to take responsibility for filtering internet content, on the basis that it is impractical, but also no doubt because ISPs know just how much of their profits come from customers accessing and downloading pornographic imagery.

Profit motive

The degree to which the pursuit of profit has motivated telcos to hop into bed with porn merchants was recently exposed in a judgement handed down in the Supreme Court of NSW.

A Gibraltar-based porn company, Gilsan, successfully sued Optus, Australia's second-biggest telecommunications company, for not passing on up to $40 million from a deal by which customers paid to access pornography through a phone call to Vanuatu (thus avoiding any incriminating details showing up on their credit-card statements).

In fact, Optus not only acted as a middle-man (sharing revenue from the calls with Vanuatu Telecom and AT&T in the United States), but also housed pornographic content on its own computer servers, for which it charged Gilsan rent. According to a report in The Australian, Optus was understood to host porn for other customers as well.

In ruling against Optus, Justice Robert McDougall said the telco had been making a profit of $1 million a month from the deal.

One thing you can be reasonably sure of is that such revelations usually represent the tip of the iceberg - just as the recent national police round-up of Australians caught accessing child pornography on the internet represents the tip of that iceberg.

Operation Auxin targeted 706 people whose credit cards had been used to access illegal websites run by one single Belarus-based company. As my policeman brother says, it's only the stupid ones you catch.

That child porn is a significantly more pervasive social problem might be adduced from the evidence of British Telecom, which in July introduced website filtering technology of the kind Australian industry representatives like Peter Coroneos, chief executive of the Internet Industry Association, have dismissed as unnecessary, unworkable, prohibitively expensive and indeed totalitarian.

BT reported that in the three weeks after it introduced its filter it blocked 250,00 attempts - 10,000 attempts a day - to access child pornography.

That figure probably includes multiple attempts by individuals, but then BT is also but one of several dozen leading ISPs, accounting for 2.5 million customers out of the 22.8 million Britons estimated to regularly access the web from home each month.

In Australia, both the major political parties have been long on rhetoric about child porn but extremely short on policies to actually do something about it.

In the lead-up to the last election, while hundreds gasped at the uncovering of child porn collections running into the tens of thousands of images, the Liberal Party showed the limits of its commitment to family values when they conflict with business interests.

Its policy proclaimed there was "no greater priority than the protection of Australia's children" and that the government was "totally committed" to stopping the use of the internet to spread child pornography or target children for abuse.

"Authorities tell us that 80 per cent of child pornography comes from the internet," it said, "and perverts are also using the internet to 'groom' or procure children for their depraved ends."

Colourful words, but its "total commitment" to the problem was $30 million over four years, the bulk to be spent on a grand-sounding National Child Sex Offenders Strike Team, with $2 million for "training roadshow and information campaign aimed at parents, teachers and community groups".

The Labor Party meanwhile considered, then dismissed, a mandatory filtering scheme based on research by the think-tank, the Australia Institute, opting instead for a tokenistic commitment of $2 million over three years for an "internet safety education campaign".

It was left to the Family First Party to take up the Australia Institute's proposal. It put the cost of establishing a mandatory ISP filtering scheme at $45 million, and $33 million a year thereafter, based on costings in a recent review commissioned by the Federal Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

  • Tim Wallace

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