Posts Tagged‘censorship’

Operation Titstorm: Stupid on Stupid Redux.

It really was only a matter of time until the collective hive mind of Anonymous got whipped up into a fury over the latest censorship news in Australia. What with our strange stance on certain female bodily functions and minimum restrictions on their bust sizes to even being so bold as to ask the almighty Google themselves to censor Youtube (and comparing us to China in the process, seriously Conroy are you that bonkers?). The media is already in a tizzy over all these issues but of course the stand alone complex that is Anonymous will take any opportunity to strike at the heart of the beast and they did so with Operation Titstorm yesterday morning:

Several Australian government websites were slowly recovering Wednesday hours after the online prankster group Anonymous unleashed a massive distributed denial-of-service attack to protest the country’s evolution toward internet censorship.

The group, which previously brought down Scientology’s websites has also undertaken a host of other online pranks. It dubbed the new attack “Operation Titstorm” to protest the government’s move to require the filtering of pornography that uses adult actors if they appear underage. Violent material targeting children is also to be censored.

“No government should have the right to refuse its citizens access to information solely because they perceive it to be unwanted,” the e-mail said. “The Australian government will learn that one does not mess with our porn. No one messes with our access to perfectly legal (or illegal) content for any reason.”

It was just over 5 months ago that Anonymous launched their first attack against the government and to be honest my opinions on the attacks haven’t changed. Whilst this certaintly has accomplished the goal of getting more attention on the issue using such nefarious means is both childish and damaging to people who are fighting the course through legitimate channels. Luckily many of the media outlets only go so far as to say the attackers called themselves Anonymous and list their various pranks. Heaven help us if a real journalist did some investigation and made the connection back to 4chan and all the inaccurate connections that implies.

What did suprise me though was the reaction at my workplace, which spurred a quite intelligent discussion about the matter. Don’t get me wrong we’re all quite tech savvy but my reaction amongs the general populace when it comes to talking about the Internet filter in Australia is usually one of either misinformation or complete disdain. When the proposal was first introduced I spent a good hour explaining to the in-laws how damaging it would be. With 2 of them being members of the Australia Federal Police force it was even harder as they have had to deal with real world implications of what the filter would attempt to stop. To their credit though once the facts were laid out to them (I think the tipping point was how easy it was to circumvent) they did come around and are now at least questioning what benefit the filter will provide.

The sad thing is that an attack like this generated more press in a day than most of the No Clean Feed campaigns have done in their entire lifetime. I still believe that the grass roots approach is the best legal method of garnering attention but when a collective hive mind can flood a couple servers and in doing so the newspapers as well it makes you look at all the effort put into these legitimate campaigns with a twinge of frustration. Sure our initial volleys certaintly did damage to the proposal (by all means it was meant to be implemented now) but few of us made waves comparable to that of Operation Titstorm.

I can’t condone these attacks yet I feel that I also can’t condem them either. The more publicity the Internet Filter gets the more likely it is to go down in flames however every one of these attacks is yet another rhetorical weapon to use in the fight to get it implemented. Only time will tell whether the end justified the means in this case and I hope our fight won’t suffer because of it.

That won’t stop me from giggling at the name though :)

A Fool’s Gambit: Michael Atkins.

It has been all quiet on the western front when it comes to censorship in Australia. Even though the Internet filter test produced surprisingly good results which would lead you to believe that implementation is just around the corner but the last month has seen not a single word uttered about it. With parliament resuming this week it’s sure to come into the spotlight again very soon. If it doesn’t then that will say quite a lot about the government’s intentions for implementing the thing, it may get delayed until after the election in the hopes of saving the tech vote.

However it appears that one of my most hated politicians, Attorney-General Michael Atkins, is peddling his censorship clap-trap in his home state of South Australia. It would seem now that if you want to make a comment about the upcoming election there you have to provide your name, rank and serial number (just kidding, name and postcode will do the trick) which the government can then keep on record for 6 months:

The law, which was pushed through last year as part of a raft of amendments to the Electoral Act and supported by the Liberal Party, also requires media organisations to keep a person’s real name and full address on file for six months, and they face fines of $5000 if they do not hand over this information to the Electoral Commissioner.

Attorney-General Michael Atkinson denied that the new law was an attack on free speech.

“The AdelaideNow website is not just a sewer of criminal defamation, it is a sewer of identity theft and fraud,” Mr Atkinson said.

“There is no impinging on freedom of speech, people are free to say what they wish as themselves, not as somebody else.”

Well it would be nice if you could stifle public debate right before and election, especially when there’s been several campaigns set up against you because of your idiotic and hyperbolic views on things as trivial as a R18+ rating for games. He specifically mentioned the website AdelaideNow which has run several articles critical of his actions. I really shouldn’t be surprised at the vitriol that he spews when he gets any negative press (read my previous post about Atkins to see what I mean, the guy is a total fruitloop). All this was an attempt to shutdown the bad publicity he had been getting that he couldn’t do anything about.

That story was run at about 8:30am yesterday and you can imagine the supporters of the AdelaideNow site were in a bit of an uproar about the whole thing. Well over a thousand people posted up their comments with 90% of them against it. This sewer of criminal defamation, identity theft and fraud apparently has quite a voice since just over 14 hours after he robbed all South Australians of their rights to anonymity, he back peddled faster than anyone thought possible:

After a furious reaction on AdelaideNow to The Advertiser’s exclusive report on the new laws, Mr Atkinson at 10pm released this statement: “From the feedback we’ve received through AdelaideNow, the blogging generation believes that the law supported by all MPs and all political parties is unduly restrictive. I have listened.

“I will immediately after the election move to repeal the law retrospectively.”

Mr Atkinson said the law would not be enforced for comments posted on AdelaideNow during the upcoming election campaign, even though it was technically applicable.

“It may be humiliating for me, but that’s politics in a democracy and I’ll take my lumps,” he continued in the statement.

Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth but does anyone else see through this thin veiled attempt to look like he’s completely reformed his position? Using the term “after the election” essentially amounts to “once I’m re-elected” which gives your average Joe the idea that if we don’t vote him in the next guy might not appeal it. He’s trying to play the remorseful wolf here after he’s slaughtered all the lambs in the field. I still don’t trust Atkins as far as I can throw him.

It’s not just his stance on censorship (both in speech and our right to by games for adults) that gets my goad up, it’s his hyperbolic vitriol that he spews on basically any issue he’s involved in. From using tortured refugee victims as an opposition to R18+ games to lashing out with accusations that people don’t exist I begin to feel that my previous label of fruitloop might be a little too kind.

With Gamers 4 Croydon standing up candidates in both houses there’s at least going to be some competition for the seat come election time. The seat of Croydon is unfortunately very safe and Atkins is unlikely to be dethroned over the issues that I harp on here, but the reaction of the AdelaideNow crowd shows the beginnings of a movement against Atkins. So whilst we probably won’t see a new Attorney General this election for Croydon we may see some movement on the issues that have stagnated under his rule. That is of course if he wants to keep his seat for another term after this one.

We can only hope.

Google vs China: We All Win.

Doing business in China as a western company is always a tricky endeavour. It’s got nothing to do with the people, they are particularly welcoming of foreign investment and appear to be aspiring more to the western way of life. No the problem lies directly with the government and the level of control that they require over almost any business that sets itself up in their country. Not only that recent developments have shown that you have to tread extremely lightly when dealing with state owned companies. Even when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has emphatically stated that “State owned is not state run” their behaviour speaks the opposite. With the only streams of information coming from the PRC state it’s hard to verify what they say, save for risking the same fate as the Rio executives.

It’s no secret that many large world governments aren’t completely comfortable with the way China has been conducting itself recently. It’s not a new problem and not one I’d expect to go away overnight. Still, for the most part there seems to be a lot of hot air around the subject and little action. That was until recently Google launched what can only be described as one of the most damaging statements that the PRC has had flung at them to date:

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

China has a very checkered history with the Internet and companies who have made their fortune and fames from it. Google had to make some hefty concessions in order to open up shop in China and the short term result was quite a lot of flak sent their way from the privacy and net neutrality groups. It was partially deserved as well since Google had a taken quite a hard line in respect to neutrality and privacy in the past. This was a big red flag stating that they were more concerned with their bottom lines than the principals they had been trumpeting before. Still their line of “better some of the information than none of it” carried some weight and eventually the wider Internet community forgave them.

This development however is a power play on a scale that we’ve rarely seen before. Openly stating that you have evidence that the government is attempting to gather information on certain individuals illegally (and on indviduals who’s association has been the target of persecution in the past) is not something that big corporations do. Truthfully if any other company had attempted such a feat they would be committing business suicide in the Chinese market, and it would have made little waves in the media. However when a company like Google, who’s services and presence are trademarks of a developed nation, dissents against your wishes (after they fought so hard to comply with them) and then openly threatens to pull out of your country completely this sends a message to all other foreign businesses in China. The price of admission is not worth the value you can derive.

The immediate reaction from the statement was huge and it prompted the  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to demand an explanation from China on these events. With Clinton having a reputation for being a rather hard-line political figure (the adage “With me or against me” comes to mind) China is going to have a rough time dealing with her, and I can’t see them explaining their way out of it. Not to the extent that will satisfy Clinton and the technologically inclined citizens of the US at least, which means the pressure for the PRC to act will more than likely come from another area, commerce.

Google’s move to publicly name and shame the Chinese government is the signal of a much larger movement against the PRC government. Initially this will begin with the corporate sector with many companies rethinking their strategy for the Chinese market. That in turn will lead to China either writing them off as lost and continuing the way it always has (hurting their economy and international reputation) or will be forced into changing their behaviour towards foreign companies. Right now I’m not sure which way they will swing as history dictates they will shrug this off like they have with all previous controversies however with their growing middle class that is now aspiring to the aspects of the western life that we all take for granted (education, health and pervasive technology) the PRC can’t keep ignoring these problems forever. They’re not stupid either and they have strong support for the majority of their actions, especially the youth who have the government to thank for the progress that have given them so many opportunities when compared to their parents.

Everything’s balancing on a hair trigger now, the results will only come with time.

At the end of the day the world at large is better for Google having taken this action. The censorship of their search engine is already starting to fade away and this will eventually lead to the wider (non-tech) crowd question why a company with a presence that reaches all corners of the globe is leaving China. It could be the beginning of the end for the totalitarian PRC, but even I think that idea is a little far fetched.

And now, we wait.

Left 4 Dead 2: Another Nanny State Fatality.

Sometimes even when bad things happen there’s that little bit of light at the end of the tunnel that will keep you going. I guess somewhere deep in my head I had the idea that the Australian Classification Board would see how silly it was being denying Left 4 Dead 2 a classification in Australia and thereby forcing us to have a completely butchered product. Turns out they’re pretty consistent with their rulings and the appeal has fallen on deaf ears:

After the Australian Classification Review Board first refused to classify Valve’s zombie first-person-shooter Left 4 Dead 2, Valve appealed the government’s decision.Valve’s Zombie shooter was refused classification, which means it can’t be made commercially available in the country. Not quite the same as a banning, but it has the same effect.

The company’s appeal to overturn the Board’s earlier decision has been refused, and the original, unedited version will not be sold in Australia later this fall when the game launches there.

As Valve told us earlier, the version of Left 4 Dead 2 submitted to the Australian government for rating is “the adjusted version.” This version has been rated and will be commercially sold in Australia.

The cut down version of the game sticks in my craw for a couple reasons. The first is that it highlights a critical flaw in the Australian classification system which can trace its roots back to one man, Michael Atkins, who in the past has used extreme hyperbole to defend his positions. Here’s an excerpt from a charming letter he wrote to the Adelaide Advertiser back in March:

Their vote is hardly likely to hinge on the “right” to score gamer points… by running down and killing pedestrians on the pavement, raping a mother and her two daughters, blowing oneself up in a market, cutting people in half with large calibre shells, injecting drugs to win an athletics event or killing a prostitute to recover the fee one just paid her (Welcome to the world of R18+ computer games).

Those of my constituents who are refugees have been subjected to the practical instead of the virtual suffering that R18+ nerds seek to inflict for their gratification on the computer screen.

Probably the worst thing about this situation is that the seat he’s in, the just over a decade old seat of Croydon, is a safe labor seat with him winning 74% of the vote in the last election. If it was a marginal seat we might have seen a swing against him on an issue like this but for the time being this man with his hyperbolic rhetoric and conservative viewpoints are keeping the mature Australian gamers behind the rest of the developed world. He uses an appeal to emotion to say that he represents people who’ve endured the horrors of R18+ games for real, and that’s the reason why he’s opposing it. If we’re to take his view to its logical conclusion does that mean every other developed country which has such a rating for these games is encouraging behaviour that is seen in these games? Although I should hardly expect any kind of sense from him, especially when he’s mislead parliament in the past.

Secondly what does coddling all the gamers in Australia net for society at large? Since the rest of the developed world has such a rating and have yet to descend into an anarchist orgy of drugs, sex and violence I can’t see how introducing a rating would do any damage to the Australian public. In fact present research shows that violent video games have no link to real world violence and in fact since games have become more popular in the last 2 decades violence amongst the young has decreased. The end affect is that the Australian gamer receives an inferior product or none at all, removing income from Australian game distributors and encouraging more nefarious means of acquiring what they want.

In fact I’m going to detail one way us Australians can get the game we deserve. First you’ll need yourself a Steam account and a friend in the USA. Get your friend to buy a copy of Left 4 Dead 2 and gift it to you and voila! You now have yourself an as intended from the developer copy of Left 4 Dead 2, thereby circumventing Australia’s draconian classification scheme. There are of course other ways, but they’re left an as exercise to the reader.

The backwards view that Australia is taking with respect to a R18+ rating for games is a black mark that we can easily erase if a couple people started practicing critical thinking. The evidence is on the table and their flat out refusal to acknowledge it shows a purposeful cognitive delusion, something that I can’t stand for when they’re supposed to be representing the people. I know one day we’ll see the end of this, and it can never come soon enough.

Anyone got a friend in the US I can talk to? ;)

Hold the R18+ Please, I’m Australian.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for game developers who want to sell their games to us Australians. Being a prosperous nation there’s enough spare income flying about that people are willing to spend up on non-essential items such as games so it makes sense to try and market their product to us. However from time to time the developers run up against the wall that is the Australian Classification Board when their game pushes across some boundaries:

THE sequel to a popular video game has been banned in Australia after failing to receive a rating of MA15+.

Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification by the Classifications Board this week, meaning it will be banned from sale.

In its report the board said the game, due to be released in November, contained “realistic, frenetic and unrelenting violence”.

“The game contains violence that is high in impact and is therefore unsuitable for persons under 18 years to play,” the report said.

Here’s the decision in PDF form which actually makes for some entertaining reading. I’ve never seen someone so formally describe a game where you are basically hacking up zombies with cool weapons. But this does bring up a point which I’ve lamented before: Australia needs a R18+ classification for it’s games, especially considering the average age of the Australian gamer is now 30.

Now I know a couple people who are in the game industry and nothing seems to stress them more than the last few months up until release. The amount of work that they put in to make sure that every bug they can find is ironed out and the game play experience is as best as it can be is staggering. I’m still frankly amazed that many game development houses attempt to release their games in Australia when the threat of refusal of classification is always there as it means putting the developers through another crunch cycle so that the game can be sold in Australia, something which will never go down well. Indeed if your game is one that is guaranteed to get refused (like say Postal)  you will probably not bother and save yourself the time and money.

For the most part though a lot of game development houses have learnt from previous rejections and know what to avoid. The best example I can think of is dismembering bodies after you’ve killed someone. If you’re a particularly twisted individual like myself you’ll usually test a game to see if you can do this sort of thing. You can then imagine my surprise when I played Dead Space and Fallout 3 that both allowed you to do such things yet have been classified as MA15+ in Australia. The decision on Left 4 Dead 2 makes note that you can’t do this but it appears that their refusal for classification is based around the use of melee weapons that allows you to make quite a pile of bodies with a decent amount of blood and guts spilling everywhere. Since that’s probably one of the major selling points of the game (who doesn’t love chainsawing up a bunch of zombies with 3 friends?) they’re going to be hard pressed to remove that, so we’ll probably end up with guts and gore replaced with rainbows and sugar plum fairies.

Maybe then it will be suitable for our sensitive little minds.

I’ve been a gamer ever since I learned how to use a keyboard and I’ll be damned if the government believes it knows what’s safe for me to see and what isn’t. Too often do we have games that are refused classification in Australia because of some petty aspect of game play that in all seriousness most Australian adults would have no problem with. If parents are worried about their little tykes getting their hands on these games then that’s not a problem for the classification board to solve. Realistically retail stores would have to be more strict in checking ID, but 30 seconds at the cash register is a small price to pay when compared to the high cost that is incurred when you have to redevelop your game in order to dumb it down for the Australian market.

It’s not for lacking of trying either that we don’t have a classification. There was supposed to be a public discussion on the matter back in July however due to a shuffling of cabinet members the minister responsible Bob Debus was replaced by Brendan O’Connor, and this has stagnated any progress on the matter. In fact a recent interview with O’Connor on Gamespot shows that they’ve basically rolled back to square one, since they’re now reconsidering their methodology for consulting with the Australian public.

At this point I’ve just lost hope with the Australian government doing anything solid on this matter. Realistically refusing classification to a game doesn’t stop people from getting their hands on it either because if they can’t buy it locally they’ll import it. If they can’t import it, they’ll pirate it, and so far any attempt to stop piracy has failed miserably. In essence the government is attempt to keep “extreme” material away from the Australian community, failing, and souring a multi-billion dollar industry’s view of our market. Keeping Australia behind all other developed nations in this regard is short sighted and provides no tangible benefits to the community at large.

Don’t make me throw a temper tantrum.

Game Censorship.

Being a gamer in Australia is a pretty unique experience. When I say unique I should say censored since we’re the only country that doesn’t have a 18+ rating for games and we’re continually gouged for any game that has to be released in Australia. What then end up with is either a modified product as we saw with Fallout 3 and GTA IV or the possibility of never seeing it as was the case with Manhunt 2. Whilst this isn’t such a big deal for most Australian gamers since there’s about 100 different ways to get these games they’re usually either dubious (ordering from overseas) or highly illegal (pirating), something which most people like to avoid. Now the government is seeking to censor the dubious method by blacklisting the sites themselves using their filter, as shown here:

The Federal Government has now set its sights on gamers, promising to use its Internet censorship regime to block websites hosting and selling video games that are not suitable for 15 year olds.

“This is confirmation that the scope of the mandatory censorship scheme will keep on creeping,” said Mr Jacobs.

“Far from being the ultimate weapon against child abuse, it now will officially censor content deemed too controversial for a 15-year-old. In a free country like ours, do we really need the government to step in and save us from racy web games?”

There’s two key points that are raised in this article and they are worth expanding upon. Firstly Australia is the only developed country in the world that does not have a R18+ classification for games, yet we have it for film and other media. What this means for us Australian consumers is that we either receive a delayed and watered down product or we never see it at all. Not only is this an act of censorship but is a detriment to the Australian market, as game sales not only help the developers but also the local stores that sell them. We can thank the honorable (HA!) member for Croydon Michael Atkinson for this, since he’s vetoed every attempt of getting such a rating in. Seems he’s got a great slab of cognitive dissonance going since I can go see someone be dismembered at a movie and that’s all well and good, but if its in a game that’s unacceptable. As we Australians say, I think he’s got a few kanagaroos loose in the top paddock.

Secondly we’re seeing a typical form of scope creep for the Internet filter. Now I’ve mentioned many times before that the filter was poorly thought out with no proper implementation details anywhere. Now this is fine for a design phase of a project but for something that is going to be put into law it’s unacceptable and is a avenue for abuse. What we’re seeing here is the government expanding the powers of a program that was already a complete disaster and doing things like this only makes it worse. What really gets me is that you can’t conceivably link this to any kind of rhetoric that Conroy has spewed forth previously. I mean how exactly does banning material that is aimed only at adults protect children in anyway? They might stumble across it online? Wait, shouldn’t it be the parent’s responsibility monitor their child’s presence online and not the governments? Shouldn’t adults be allowed to view legal material designed for them without having to be wrapped up in the same cotton wool as the children of Australia?

I just hope that the association of the R18+ rating with the Internet filter grants it enough air time so that we can finally get public pressure to get it passed. Keeping a developed nation such as Australia on the back foot like this is just plain unacceptable, we’re all adults here and I think we’re all capable of making decisions for ourselves. It would seem that the government is more then willing to take our own free will away from us, something which as a libertarian I can’t stand to bear.

Maybe we need another shameful radio interview with Senator Conroy to convince him to stop this crap.

Canberra Rally.

Today was the Digital Liberty Coalition’s rally against the Clean Feed. We had a good turnout in Canberra with about 100 or so turning up to Caroline Le Coutuer (Greens Party), Hannah Mae Koenig (Event Organiser), Nathaneal Boehm (DLC Member) and myself speaking about why opposing this policy matters and what it means for Australia.

It was great to see the support that came out for this cause and I thank everyone who came out today to discuss the Clean Feed and all its implications. Whilst Caroline focused on the policy I gave a brief overview of the technical and business implications of the Internet Filter. I’m glad that many people are now more informed about this issue and can now impart knowledge on others in order to raise more awareness.

I was very impressed by the reception we got from the general public as well. Many people stopped to listen to us give our views on this policy, and a couple even stayed behind for a good chat afterwards. It was great to hear that all of them would be coming back for the big rally in March, which I’m hoping will draw much more interest from the media.

Hopefully I’ll have some pictures/videos/links once they start coming my way. I was going to take my camera along but being the busy boy that I am I remembered I’d left it at home 5 minutes before I was in Civic for the rally. I’m going to write up a summary of the whole event for the Chronicle and I’ll have a link to it once it’s up.

Interview with 2CC’s Mike Jeffreys.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by 2CC’s Mike Jeffreys this morning. We discussed some of the points of the proposed internet filter and what it will mean for the public at large.

Whilst I’m all for protecting children on the Internet there are far better ways to do it than what Senator Conroy is proposing. I’m glad that Mike was on-board with what I was talking about and he brought up some really good examples of how the government has pulled these kinds of stunts in the past. Whilst I don’t want to go too far into tin foil hat mode, the whole internet filter smacks of government control of information. I’d happily support an opt-in filter for concerned parents (even opt-out at a real stretch) but only as long as it didn’t impact on people who didn’t want it.

My main point on all this is that many people don’t know enough about the Internet and the way it functions to make informed decisions on ideas like this. In many cases your average Joe will hear the words “Protecting our children” and instantly rubber stamp their approval. It’s a slippery slope once we give the government this kind of power, and I’d rather block this proposal in its entirety rather than have to circumvent it later on.

If you’re reading this and you’re concerned about your children and the dangers of the internet there are a couple pointers I’d like to give you:

  • Put the PCs in a main room like the living or family room. Children are far less likely to go looking for questionable content if you’re there with them
  • Get yourself online. If your kids know you’re on Facebook/MySpace/etc they’ll behave themselves. Many kids will keep doing something until they think they might get caught
  • Use online technologies like email, instant messaging and so on to get a feel for what they are experiencing online
  • Promote education instead of prohibition. Forbidden fruit is always more tantalizing then well trodden paths

I’ve attached an MP3 of the interview for you all to listen to, enjoy!!

David Klemke 2CC Internet Filter Interview