Red Alert

Archive for the ‘civil liberties’ Category


Posted by on August 9th, 2011

Yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of the massacre of 3000 protesters who wanted democracy in Burma. They were Buddhist monks, students, activists and workers. They were gunned down by the military regime for daring to want freedom, peace and democracy. 2200 political prisoners still languish in Burmese prisons. In Norway or Burma, democracy is a threat to some people.

I went to my fifth commemoration of this event in Nelson yesterday. It gets bigger every time. We have more ethnic groups arriving from Burma and they bring new horror stories of murder, rape and persecution.

One woman who knows about perpetual struggle in a way to which I will never have to become accustomed, is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Here is a message from Aung San Suu Kyi – yes, to us in NZ – about the Burmese struggle. Enough said.

State intervention in social media

Posted by on April 30th, 2011

The importance of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter is evident. The latest example is what appears to have happened in the last couple of days in the UK with Facebook removing dozens of profiles from its site, causing an outcry from campaigners trying to organise anti-austerity protests this weekend.

The Guardian reports:

The deactivated pages include UK Uncut, and pages created by students during last December’s university occupations.

A list posted on the Stop Facebook Purge group says Chesterfield Stop the Cuts, Tower Hamlet Greens, London Student Assembly, Southwark SoS and Bristol Uncut sites are no longer functioning.

Administrators for the profiles say hundreds of links between activists have been broken in the run up to the May Day bank holiday. When users click on URL links the message “the page you requested was not found” now appears.

Online news site Ekklesia reported that:

The social networking site Facebook is facing massive pressure from campaigners, civil liberties activists and journalists tonight after suspending a series of UK-based ‘political’ accounts.

In what University College of London students, UK Uncut and others are calling a ‘purge’ – coinciding with police action against radical and dissenting groups on the day of the royal wedding – more than 50 Facebook pages have been put out of operation.

Among those affected have been Save NHS, Rochdale Law Centre, Tower Hamlets Greens, Bootle Labour, Bristol Bookfair, Westminster Trades Council and London Student Assembly.

Specifically anti-cuts and student protest groups are also targeted. Only progressive or radical groups seem to have been impacted.

At first Facebook refused to comment, but after grassroots digital action and national media reporting (including the Guardian newspaper and Channel 4 television news), the company responded to protesters by suggesting that their action related to a a technical “violation of terms issue” relating to the “wrong” kind of page.

A spokesperson told Channel 4: “The reason all of these profiles came down at once is simple. Facebook’s security tools constantly work to maintain our real name culture by removing profiles that are ‘fake’ or don’t belong to an individual person, but rather a campaign, an animal, or an organisation.”

But critics say this does not explain the apparently selective effect of the action.

It appears there’s been cooperation between the State and a major online networking site to address perceived or actual threats surrounding the Royal Wedding.

The issue for me is not so much whether Facebook should ever interfere with an activist page. Sometimes there may be good reasons, and every online social media site, including Red Alert, must have some rules and standards and make them clear to everyone.

But  what if what appears to be arbitrary censorship and take downs occur, which may have political motives? Affecting the ability of citizens to lawfully protest and object to government policies, or dare I say. Even the Monarchy? That’s the issue. How do you guard against that?

US sees sense on don’t ask, don’t tell

Posted by on December 19th, 2010

It seems unthinkable in New Zealand that gay and lesbian members of our defence force would have to hide their sexual identity in order to serve. It’s only today that the US has seen the sense in this. In this day and age it’s extraordinary.

Better late than never I guess. The US Senate voted to repeal the regressive law 65 to 31 which was a definitive vote.

Thank goodness.

Don’t ask’ is repealed in historic vote

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2010 The U.S. military will for the first time in history allow gays to serve openly after the Senate voted Saturday to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that has required such troops to hide their sexual identity or risk being expelled from the services.

While opponents said repeal would create a battlefield distraction that could endanger troops, supporters drew parallels to the military’s decision to end racial segregation in the 1950s and the admission of women to military service academies in the 1970s.

Human Rights Day

Posted by on December 11th, 2010

10 December is recognised as World Human Rights Day. This message is late going up because I had to wait for the UN to post some material. Have a look at any of the stuff this link gives you access to. It will remind you of what the struggle for human rights means in a range of places around the world.

You might also want to read (or at least have a browse through) the NZ Human Rights Commission’s report on Human Rights in NZ. We have some work to do here as well.

Glacier police? Lets stop kids climbing trees too

Posted by on December 3rd, 2010

There seems to be growing ridicule of –

Coroner Richard McElrea’s recommendations after an inquest into the deaths of Ashish Miranda, 24, and Akshay Miranda, 22. The Australian brothers were crushed to death at Fox Glacier in January last year.

The coroner recommended Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson “take steps” to create bylaws to restrict or close public access to the terminal face of Fox Glacier.

Good thing too. The idea that someone gets an instant fine for going off a path in a National Park is an indication that the Coroner needs to go for a walk,  smell the fresh air and get his brain into gear.

Yes the deaths were tragic but these men ignored multiple signs, climbed a barrier and stood under a glacier edge as it was breaking up.

You don’t make rules that restrict the rest of us based on the actions of two, albeit dead, idiots, who caused distress to their families but did not harm anyone else.

What is next – a tree climbing ban because someone fell out of one once.

Aung San Suu Kyi – first direct address to the world in a while

Posted by on December 1st, 2010

Have a look at this and tell me you are not affected by it. Not a smuggled video, not a clandestine cobbled together job, just a simple, direct address which clearly and carefully asks for support and friendship. Amazing.


Australians to debate gay marriage

Posted by on November 18th, 2010

Breaking News:

Well done to the Australian Greens for pushing this issue and to Australian Labor for agreeing to support. Shows maturity. And also to those independents.

Australian Parliament proving to be quite different this term.

Hope it lasts.

A Greens motion urging MPs to gauge community support for gay marriage has been passed by the House of Representatives.

The motion, which has ignited debate over the issue this week, was passed by 73 votes to 72 with the support of Labor and crossbench MPs Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie.

The Coalition refused to support the motion as did independent MP Bob Katter.

Earlier this week Labor agreed to back the motion, put forward by Greens MP Adam Bandt, as tensions erupted internally over the party’s refusal to allow gay marriage.

What Aung San Suu Kyi’s release means

Posted by on November 14th, 2010

This is what the release of Aung San Suu Kyi means to people who live in Nelson. These people are all refugees who are working hard at establishing themselves in a new country with a new language and culture. They are very politically aware and are already planning the next steps for their work in exile at bringing democracy to Burma.


Kyi Win Thain with family and friends at home in Nelson

Kyi Win Htain with family and friends at home in Nelson

 I had to flag a school gala today to go and visit Kyi Win and his family and friends – somehow that was the right place to be on this special day. Kyi Win Htain is a respected elder in the Burmese communities in Nelson (there is more than one Burmese community).  He is the one on the right in the front. His son is beside him and immediately behind him are his wife and daughter. Others are close friends and political comrades. They were more than happy for me to take their photo and post it. Look at those smiles!

This is the personal, deeply felt impact of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release.

And if you want to know what the Washington Post said so eloquently today in its editorial, as they do, read this.

Aung San Suu Kyi – Burma’s future

Posted by on November 14th, 2010

A few hours ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest – for the third time. Grant’s blog refers but here is the BBC feed  fyi. You can also read Release_of_Aung_San_Suu_Kyi_-_Street_-_14_Nov_2010[1] which I put out a few hours ago.

This is a moment for celebration, a rare moment for Burmese people as they struggle for survival under the repressive and harsh military junta. The military seized power 22 years ago and after an election in 1990, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won overwhelmingly, they refused to hand over that power to her and the NLD.

Aung San Suu Kyi is an extraordinary person who took on the mantle of her assassinated father all those years ago. There is no doubt that she has become an international symbol of democracy and freedom, in the same way as Nelson Mandela was and remains.  She is much loved by her people.

She is the one to lead any reconciliation and movement towards democracy in Burma. Here is a really good example of the need to have a woman at the peace negotiation table (you might recall I blogged on this the other week in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s visit).  The question will be whether the junta will tolerate the increased pressure that her release is bound to elicit from the international community, or revert to its usual method of re-imprisoning her to defuse public gatherings and political association in Burma.

Today is one moment for celebration however. At least the world is now more attuned to some of what is happening in Burma. Whatever happens next, Burma’s future is inextricably linked to this remarkable woman.

Not sure I like the sound of this

Posted by on October 11th, 2010

Government licensing access to the internet. If your computer is thought to be “infected” you get shut down til it is cleansed. A Microsoft executive put up the idea during last week in the US using a health scare (an epidemic or pandemic) as the analogy.

Not sure I like the sound of this. Particularly in the light of discussions around open government and the importance of and need for access to the internet by the population.

But I need to do more research on it. So shall not take a hard and fast view yet.  Privacy issues and cybersecurity keep being raised with me in discussions with a range of tech people across the spectrum.

This is one of the big issues. Keen for your thoughts.

Here’s one take on what Microsoft said

Here’s another :

A new proposal by a top Microsoft executive would open the door for government licensing to access the Internet, with authorities being empowered to block individual computers from connecting to the world wide web under the pretext of preventing malware attacks.

Speaking to the ISSE 2010 computer security conference in Berlin yesterday, Scott Charney, Microsoft vice president of Trustworthy Computing, said that cybersecurity should mirror public health safety laws, with infected PC’s being “quarantined” by government decree and prevented from accessing the Internet.

“If a device is known to be a danger to the internet, the user should be notified and the device should be cleaned before it is allowed unfettered access to the internet, minimizing the risk of the infected device contaminating other devices,” Charney said.

Charney said the system would be a “global collective defense” run by corporations and government and would “track and control” people’s computers similar to how government health bodies track diseases.

Invoking the threat of malware attacks as a means of dissuading or blocking people from using the Internet is becoming a common theme – but it’s one tainted with political overtones

Get out and vote: This is your democracy

Posted by on September 23rd, 2010


Last Sunday was Suffrage Day. It’s a bit belated to acknowledge it. I know many of my caucus colleagues attended events and marked the day. I went to a Suffrage lunch, talked about women in parliament and made white camellias out of tissue paper.

117 years since New Zealand women won the right to vote. Someone told me that the Electoral Bill giving women the vote passed in the Legislative Council (the Upper House) of NZ Parliament by just 20 votes to 18. Crikey that was close.

I also heard that those supporting suffrage wore white camellias and those against wore red ones (not sure if that’s correct). Though the white camellia has become the symbol for suffrage in NZ.

All of you would have by now received your voting papers in the mail for the local body elections. There’s no law in New Zealand requiring you to vote. Personally I support such a law. I believe it’s not only the right of every citizen to vote, it’s a responsibility. Women fought for the vote in NZ. The abolitionists fought for the end of slavery and the right of African Americians to vote in 1870.

All around the world oppressed people have fought for the right to vote. It’s a precious thing. We should exercise it. Even if we don’t like the options we should vote, whether it’s a valid or in-valid vote. And if we don’t like the options we could stand for office, or encourage others to.

So I urge you all to vote. This is your democracy.

PS: Technically you don’t “get out and vote” in the local body elections because you receive your voting papers in the mail. But you know what I mean.

Systemic Market Failure?

Posted by on September 22nd, 2010

When this country is in recession and Kiwi families are doing it bloody tough, I cannot bear to stand by and see rich and powerful private interests – whom I will not name at this point and this post is not about SCF – rorting the rules and using their clubs and networks to finesse processes.

It makes Godzone look like “the coldest banana republic in the world”.

For goodness sake interests associated with the Natural Dairy Crafar farms bid (potentially with Nat links) reportedly gave $200,000 to the National Party while the Natural Dairy application was still before the OIO and while National has a ministerial policy review underway. 

National should IMMEDIATELY reject that bid – otherwise what is left to separate this from complete corruption?  Brown envelopes?  Is David Garrett really the only sick or crooked puppy on the Govt benches? 

Was it OK for the OIO-overseeing Minister of Finance to lease his (trust’s) house to the govt for a staggering ministerial rent, or accept hours of free TV for his “Plain English” ads?  Isn’t it time we Kiwis stood up and demanded that the tories do sweat the small stuff like the rest of us?  Isn’t it time John key held SOMEONE to account for SOMETHING rather than smile, wave and make excuses?

The Fendalton and Queen St methods are different from the Crafar one but they are even more dangerous and subversive: very polite circles of influence in the clubs and boardrooms – with massive flows of funds through anonymous trusts that violate the intent of the Electoral Finance Act.  Prestigious law firms and lobbyists.  This is up with the worst sort of influence peddling  I saw in Washington D.C. –  One dollar one vote:  permanent plutocracy unless we fight back.

Beyond political donations, look at the ability of the rich and powerful to get their way while the poor and middle struggle: $2 billion a year of tax avoidance through LAQCs and trusts that National in government has refused to touch.  Half the top 100 welathiest NZers are still not on the top tax rate!

This post is not about SCF, but researching that issue has opened my eyes to the complexity of the company and accounting structures in daily use around the markets.   One prominent international investment broker told me he tells his clients never to invest in NZ other than through an ASIC-regulated (Australian) vehicle, because our market is a wild west.

Well what is the point of getting our savings rate up (and asking hard working families to go without consumtion) if the investment vehicles we need to get the money to our struggling firms are being milked and siphoned by fees and sweet deals to the cronies in the markets?  Why would any sane Kiwi sweat 80 hours a week to build a real business here?  Where will our kids choose to live?

We are talking the need for a full scale root and branch reform.  For example, is the Trustee model not a fiction?  Issuers want tame trustees; trustees want clients.  How do you prevent a race to the bottom?  I will wager now the FMA Bill will not do the job.  We have BIG problems here folks. 

It might have been cool to point the finger at Labour when the champers was flowing during the bubble hype days; but corporate influence peddling is about as attractive as a bucket of sick in the middle of a recession.

There is a real risk of systemic market failure in the NZ financial markets.     They remind me of telecommunications markets in the 1990s – time for a big cleanup.

It is not right and not fair on the silent majority who play by the rules and who are getting absolutely screwed. 

It will only get worse until we have a Govt with the guts to stand up to it.   The smiling millionaire from Bankers Trust is hardly likely to do that!

Ill Fares the Land – Why John Key should read Tony Judt

Posted by on July 21st, 2010

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates, and men decay. Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, 1779

This is the by-line to the 2010 book entitled “Ill Fares The Land” by Tony Judt on the growing inequalities of wealth and opportunity around the world.

I recommend the book, which David Cunliffe and Shane Jones each recommended to me. It examines the different outcomes for social cohesion and equality of social democratic cf conservative policies.

It describes well what is obvious to many in Labour. “We have entered an age of insecurity – economic insecurity, physical insecurity, political insecurity. ….. Insecurity breeds fear. And fear – fear of change, fear of decline, fear of strangers and an unfamiliar world is – corroding the trust and interdependence on which civil societies rest.”

There is much in this book which is worth reading. It has relevance to debates about total tax, our unjust tax mix, NZ’s appalling corrections policy, wealth inequality and the reality that our best assets now can only normally be afforded by NZers lucky enough to inherit wealth (and overseas investors from societies with concentrations of wealth).

We now see the differences between left and right playing out most weeks in parliament. This very week in parliament we are considering an Infrastructure Bill which has a rotten amendment by the government. It is another example of the sort of change in society caused by right leaning governments, which are described in the book.

The Bill as introduced by Labour included provisions relating to affordable housing. Now I concede there is a proper debate to be had between Labour and National whether all of those provisions are appropriate.  Labour says yes, National no.  But there should be no argument about the provisions in the Bill banning restrictive covenants in subdivisions against low cost housing

Make no mistake, in effect National are saying they see nothing wrong in the developer of land being able by private covenant to exclude those who can only afford less expensive housing from a new suburb.  These sorts of restrictive covenant are new in New Zealand and ought to be stamped out.   Allowing private planning to exclude those less fortunate from living near them is not right. National thinks that gated communities of wealthier New Zealanders are the way to go.  It is yet another practical example of National’s right-wing values. It is wrong makes New Zealand a worse country.

It shows what a flawed set of values guides their decisions.

Book burning and now Key uses harpoon on whaleoil

Posted by on July 16th, 2010

John Key was encouraged by Anne Tolley’s success at suppressing a research report on national standards.

Now he has apparently gone another step – pulled Cameron Slater’s media accreditation for the National Party conference this weekend.

I don’t like much of Cameron Slater’s work. The arachnephobic blowhole is sometimes a good case for the reintroduction of criminal libel.

But banning him for telling the truth about Key’s mate the party president and caucus attempts to engineer his re-election is not the good old liberal national party of Ralph Hanan and John Marshall and won’t be that way when Simon Power is the leader.

Update – now The Nation is being pressured to stop Slater appearing.

And btw what has happened to Kiwiblog’s defence of Whaleoil. Interesting values that lets the penguin blog on lunch but not stand up for his mate when the boss puts the boot in.

Update II  Slater has now confirmed see below:-

Boy have I upset some peo­ple. per­haps I have hit too close to the bone.

Today has been full of hurly-burly, lies and bullshit.

I applied to go to National’s con­fer­ence as Media. I used the same accred­i­ta­tion that has seen me reg­is­tered as media for two Daivd Tua fights and a num­ber of other func­tions. It was rejected, I then reg­is­tered as an observer mem­ber, which I am enti­tled to do.

When I was asked to go on The Nation again this week­end I called the new Gen­eral Man­ager to enquire as to the broad­band facil­i­ties that were avail­able for the media. I was then told that I wasn’t media and there­fore any facil­i­ties that were pro­vided to the media were off-limits for me. I told him that I was appear­ing on The Nation, blog­ging from the con­fer­ence and they could be help­ful or not, and pointed out that not wasn’t going to be a good look for any­one, but I didn’t care about my look so it was up to him. The ban was re-iterated to me.


Common Sense from the High Court on Adoption – Now it’s Parliament’s Turn

Posted by on June 29th, 2010

Last week, a full court of the High Court (this means 2 judges – commonly the way that test cases are heard and decided) significantly widened the pool of adults who can legally volunteer to adopt children in New Zealand.

The last time Parliament considered the issue was back in 1955 when it passed the current Adoption Act. Not surprisingly, given the values of the time, Parliament restricted eligibility to adopt to married couples by the use of the word “spouse” in the Act. When the civil unions and relationship property acts were passed, the definitions in the Adoption Act were left unchanged.

The test case came before Justices John Wild and Simon France, both highly regarded members of the Court. What they had to decide was whether the term ‘spouse’ as used in the Adoption Act 1955 should be interpreted today as including unmarried people living together. It was argued that it should, largely because the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, as enacted in 1990, contains a prohibition of discrimination on the ground of martial status. The Bill requires an outcome consistent with its provisions wherever possible.

The Court found that, to give effect to the ban on marital status discrimination, it had to interpret the word “spouse” as including people in de-facto relationships. The parties to the case had agreed that the interpretation they were seeking extended only to test whether heterosexual relationships were included in the ruling, and the Court records this limitation in its reasons for judgment.

However, logically, the ruling extends eligibility to be considered for adoption to anyone in a marriage, civil union or (straight or gay) de-facto relationship. This is so for two reasons – the definition of “marital status” and the fact that “sexual orientation” is also a ground of prohibited discrimination in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

The number of adoptions that actually occur each year in New Zealand is small -guardianship and other legal forms allowing for the care of children without legally extinguishing the birth relationship are more usual these days. But the decision is important. Children who are in need of adoptive parents should have the right to have those parents selected from the widest pool of appropriately-qualified people possible. Unless amended, the current Act, as now interpreted by the High Court, restricts them to people in a relationship. At some point soon Parliament should widen the pool further. Who can seriously argue today that single, or divorced, or widowed people can’t make great parents? And as you would imagine, there are other anomalies in legislation that is now 65 years old that need fixing up.

Right now, though, it’s good to read a sensible decision from our Hight Court that shows the Bill of Rights to be a valuable tool in keeping the law up to date.

We need greater transparency and freedom

Posted by on January 26th, 2010

Transparency in trade negotiations and internet freedom have taken centre stage internationally which I believe has important implications for NZ.

The New Zealand negotiators for ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, have now said publicly that “New Zealand is calling for greater transparency in negotiations”. In December, MED held two briefings on ACTA, these slides have been made available.

ACTA is currently being negotiated in secrecy. New Zealand is participating in the discussions along with Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. Red Alert posted on this before Xmas.

The NZ Herald reported in November that while the US government claims ACTA is about counterfeiting rather than major changes to copyright law, and shouldn’t be subject to public scrutiny, leaked versions of ACTA discussion papers seemed to indicate that copyright lobby organisations may have in fact turned treaty negotiations to suit their own agenda.

At the moment it seems like many of the countries are saying they’re calling for more transparency but they have to get the others to agree. The big question is, is this a tactic, to make it look as though they take it seriously, or is it real?

 The next round of ACTA negotiations kick off today in Guadalajara, Mexico today.  Transparency is on the agenda in Mexico, but it remains to be seen whether it will eventuate. It remains to be seen whether our negotiators from MED and MFAT mean it.

In the meantime, ‘Internet Freedom’ has now become a playing card in US foreign policy, in particular with regards to China and other oppressive regimes.

This has immediate implications for New Zealand, with regards to termination of people’s internet connections for copyright infringement which is included in the revised version of Section 92A of the Copyright Act and is considered by some to be included in ACTA drafts.

In her recent and significant speech on Internet Freedom, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:

“the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly in cyber space.”

I’ve been writing quite a bit about this and thinking about the wider issue of the right of our citizens to equitably access the internet (which implies that they shouldn’t be cut off from access)

Hillary Clinton also said:

“The private sector has a shared responsibility to help safeguard free expression. And when their business dealings threaten to undermine this freedom, they need to consider what’s right, not simply the prospect of quick profits.”

 The full text of Hilary Clinton’s speech is here.

I’ll be watching how the ACTA negotiations play out.

Racism & Hate – Remove it from FB or I’m Gone..

Posted by on January 25th, 2010

I’ve just discovered this group has been established on facebook. What’s interesting is that it’s been set up to pressure the Facebook administration into removing FB Groups that incite Racism & Hate of any kind. Consumer pressure. Wonder if it’ll have an effect.

The blurb states that such FB groups have been allowed to grow unchecked. The threat is that people will leave if these groups are allowed to persist. I haven’t come across any myself.

But I think it’s interesting, especially in light of Hillary Clinton’s speech on internet freedom delivered last Friday morning where she said:

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They’ve expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world…

…all societies recognize that free expression has its limits. We do not tolerate those who incite others to violence, such as the agents of al-Qaida who are, at this moment, using the internet to promote the mass murder of innocent people across the world. And hate speech that targets individuals on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is reprehensible. It is an unfortunate fact that these issues are both growing challenges that the international community must confront together.

Wonder what Facebook has to say about this?

More on Hillary’s speech coming.

Hillary Clinton major address on internet freedom

Posted by on January 21st, 2010

Just received this notification:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will deliver a major policy address on Internet freedom live from the Newseum in Washington, D.C. January 21, 2010, 9.30am EST, Friday 3.30AM NZ time.  Secretary Clinton will lay-out the Administration’s strategy for protecting freedom in the networked age of the 21st Century.

Following her speech, there will be a panel discussion on this issue. To participate, either by watching a high quality video stream of the speech and panel discussion or by submitting questions and comments while viewing go to: From here, you may choose the high quality video option or the interactive CO.NX room. As always, no password is necessary. Enter as a guest and type the username of your choice.

For further information please visit

Information is also available at’s feature page on Internet Freedom. You can also follow the speech on Twitter:

When released, a transcript of Secretary Clinton’s remarks will be available at

Labour’s position on internet censorship

Posted by on December 31st, 2009

There have been requests for an elaboration on Labour’s position on internet filtering following my previous post two days ago. Here’s what I sent to Tech Liberty lobbyist Thomas Beagle in late July in response to his request about where Labour sits on censoring the internet.

In November 2008 the Labour Government introduced a programme of test filtering on a trial basis blocking access to the approximate 7000 websites, known to deal with exclusively child sexual abuse imagery.

At the time, the Hon David Cunliffe said “The programme intends to contribute to the safety of the public’s online experience by preventing inadvertent access to this type of objectionable material. It also intends to contribute to international efforts against the production of and trade in child sexual abuse imagery.

There are no plans for the programme to be expanded to other types of illegal material.”

He also stated that New Zealand had no intention of following Australia’s legislation of mandatory filtering by ISPs. New Zealand’s response to undesirable material has been an emphasis on education, as demonstrated by Netsafe. The Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act had no legislative authority for website filtering, he said.

The previous Labour Government action was in response to a proposal from ECPAT NZ, part of a global organisation which aims to eliminate child prostitution and pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

There were clear guidelines around privacy protection. The system had been successfully trialled in Sweden.

ISPs joined the programme on a voluntary basis. Labour’s policy hasn’t changed.

I believe there is a need for further discussion within our caucus on these matters. My view is that a voluntary, opt in system for ISPs to a contained filtering programme focussed solely on child sexual abuse is about as far as you’d want to go. I’m keen to learn more about why some of you believe filters don’t work.

Censoring the internet… will NZ follow Oz?

Posted by on December 29th, 2009

Some worrying developments are occurring across the Tasman as Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy presses ahead with his plan to censor the internet after Government-commissioned trials found filtering a blacklist of banned sites was accurate and would not slow down the internet.

Conroy announced he is making it mandatory for internet service providers (ISPs) to block a secret blacklist of “refused classification” (RC) websites for all Australian internet users.

Legislation to implement the scheme will be introduced before the federal election next year.

The announcement, made in the week before Christmas, has infuriated the Australian online community and spurred a campaign called No Clean Feed calling for a blackout. Another campaign by Get Up is also running. Trevor alerted us to this last night.

The campaign has echoes of the copyright campaign launched here in early 2009 to draw attention to the impact of Section 92A on ISPs which would have been required to cut off users’ internet connections based on accusation of copyright infringement.

The NZ (National) government, after much urging, eventually pulled its finger out and re-worked Section 92A. Legislation is to be brought before Parliament early next year. It requires vigorous scrutiny as copyright is a touchstone issue in the digital era. The NZ legislation is being watched around the world and will impact on other jurisdictions.

NZ, under the previous Labour Government, also introduced a test filtering programme blocking access to the approximate 7000 websites known to deal with exclusively child sexual abuse imagery.

Previous Labour Comms Minister David Cunliffe stated at the time that NZ had no intention of following Australia’s legislation of mandatory filtering of ISPs. NZ’s response to undesirable material has been an emphasis on education, as demonstrated by Netsafe.

In Australia, Stephen Conroy’s proposed laws go a lot further. While initially promoted as a way to block child pornography, the censorship policy has been extended to include a much broader range of material, including sites depicting bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

He has some strong arguments; that the filtering scheme will not affect speeds on the internet, that the only material being blocked is Refused Classification (RC) material that is already illegal; that there are mechanisms in place for correcting mistakes; and that the filter is not a silver bullet answer to protecting Australian children.

All laudable arguments. There are some points I’d like to make though.

Firstly, any material relating to child abuse is illegal and abhorrent. We support a system that enables ISPs to block this material. We support more work around exploring the best ways to do this.

The NZ system currently works on an “opt in” basis. It’s not mandatory. There are strong arguments against mandatory filtering which must explored. It doesn’t cover encrypted traffic, file sharing, email or chat which is how much of this material is circulated. And motivated people will find ways to circumvent a filter using proxy servers or encrypted tunnels.

Then there’s an argument about to what extent censorship is acceptable in a democratic society. If the censorship goes beyond child sexual abuse, where does it stop? Political sites? Who decides on what gets censored? And how transparent and accountable is that system?

A mature society should largely be able to self censor and know why it’s important. Yes there must be rules. And they should be enforceable. But preventing the sickness of proliferation of child sexual abuse imagery through a voluntary opt in agreement amongst ISPs is one thing. Establishing a blacklist of banned sites that is kept secret from the public and widens beyond child pornography is another.

Last week in Australia, former High Court judge Michael Kirby criticised the Federal Government’s internet censorship agenda, saying it could stop the “Berlin Walls of the future” from being knocked down.

In the last week an anti-censorship protest site was taken down by the Australian Domain Name Administrator (auDA) sparking outrage and claims of political censorship.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has allegedly lost thousands of twitter followers in the last few weeks over this issue.

Does this matter?

The online community is vast and spans geography, ethnicity, socio-economic differences, occupations and political affiliations.

But there are strong views on both sides and there are genuine concerns about the amount of unacceptable content available online, especially to our children. Nobody finds that palatable. The question is, what do you do about it?

There must be a line where common sense and the common good prevails. Governments are there to govern after all, by setting and implementing standards.

It seems to me that it’s best to deal with the facts. If you’re going to have a filter, will it work? Will it capture the material that you have identified needs capturing, will the people trafficking in this material be able to circumvent it? And what impact will it have on the ISPs? Will mandatory filtering work better than voluntary filtering?

All questions also relevant to the copyright debate. I wonder where our government sits on these issues right now.