Quick Post: On the Freeness of Speech (reply to @citation_needed) #auspol #auslaw

Over on AusOpinion, I’ve argued that two recent court cases have breathed life into the entitled whining of freedom of speech advocates.

But — again — we are only hearing from one side of the debate, the side which thinks it’s intuitively obvious that Australia’s legal system failed to protect Banerji and the Occupy protesters.  The argument is a simple one: ‘Look at these people with whom you appear to agree!  If only we had a bill of rights, people with whom you agree would have been protected!’  It’s a narrow and shallow debate that overlooks the cost of free speech. [Source]

To show that the intuition is flawed, I’ve given several examples of how a constitutionally protected freedom of speech would adversely affect various progressive causes.  The point being, we need advocates to start engaging seriously in the debate with something better than absolutist slogans like ‘Free speech is the cornerstone of democracy’ and ‘The rights of all public servants are at stake here’.

Over on Twitter, M Nash (@citation_needed) has responded:

[tweet https://twitter.com/citation_needed/status/387723015343312896] [tweet https://twitter.com/citation_needed/status/387724903975489536]

On the one hand, this misses the point.  The point of my examples was not to demonstrate definitively that freedom of speech protections are a waste of time.  The point is to counter the intuition-pumps arising from the two court cases.

On the other hand, M Nash’s response is exactly the one for which I’m explicitly asking in the post:

This isn’t a debate between the hip cool progressives who love freedom and the crusty old conservatives who hate minority rights.  It is isn’t even a debate.  It’s just entitled whinging from people who opportunistically think that they would benefit from a constitutional protection of free speech. [Source]

If you think that US-style protections don’t work, put some options on the table and let’s nut them out.  Given that the mainstream media only discusses rights in terms of Bills or Charters, this would be an extremely welcome and productive development of the rights debate.

But don’t for a minute think that it’s an easy discussion.

Prima: ‘These court cases prove that we need better protections for the cornerstone of democracy!’

Secunda: ‘But the protections that you’re advocating would have major negative consequences.  Here are some examples.’

Prima: ‘None of those examples hold if you just ignore the protection mechanism that I’ve been advocating.’

Secunda: ‘So what protection mechanism do you have in mind?’

Prima: ‘We… We… We could have a whole host of exceptions to the freedom of speech.  We could have a constitutional protection for the freedom of speech, but allow the State to infringe it for matters of national security, protection of human health, for the maintenance of an impartial public service, and for the purposes of ratifying treaties.  Oh, or we could just limit the applicability of the protection.  We could have a constitutional protection just and only just for true political communication that’s in the public interest!’

Secunda: ‘Sure.  But these seem like very limited rights, and they look like they could be easily abused…’

And so on and so forth.  But this is exactly the debate that we should be having.  When advocates start braying for constitutional protections, we should hold them to account and make them defend their views.  Otherwise, it will always remain an entitled whinge-fest.

 

You make my legs shake… Religious exemption from anti-discrimination laws is what atheists wanted #auspol #atheism

Dear Australia’s Megaphone Atheists,

We really need to talk.  Sure, I know you think anybody who disagrees with you is a deluded moron but, when you launch into public debates blowing hot and cold, you start to make the reasonable, sensible atheists (like me) look bad.

The problem comes down to your sloganeering.  When you use slogans as placeholders for thought, you end up saying pretty dumb things.  We’ve seen the same thing with the religious folk we’ve pilloried.  Remember when we mocked those religious nutters for saying:

It is … impossible to compromise with the stone-faced propagandists for Bronze Age morality: morons and philistines who hate Darwin and Einstein and managed, during their brief rule in Afghanistan, to ban and erase music and art while cultivating the skills of germ warfare. If they could do that to Afghans, what might they not have in mind for us? In confronting such people, the crucial thing is to be willing and able, if not in fact eager, to kill them without pity before they get started.

Oh, wait.  That was Hitchens.

What about when the religious nutters said:

Cluster bombs are perhaps not good in themselves, but when they are dropped on identifiable concentrations of Taliban troops, they do have a heartening effect.

Oh, wait.  Hitchens again.

Okay, what about when the religious nutters said:

Even in the case of the Aurora shooting, it is not ludicrous to suppose that everyone might have been better off had a well-trained person with a gun been at the scene.

Actually, that was Sam Harris.  The guy who also said: ‘Islam, as it is currently understood and practiced by vast numbers of the world’s Muslims, is antithetical to civil society’.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm…

Okay, so you megaphone atheists now have a reputation for saying repugnant and moronic things.  At least in the above examples, we can see that your statements are self-evidently stupid and beneath contempt.  But what about when you start chanting ‘Separation of Church and State’?

The issue arose last year with the Commonwealth’s funding of the National Chaplaincy Scheme.  There you were trying to argue that secular money shouldn’t flow to religious programs because of the principle of ‘Separation of Church and State’.  There should be two spheres, you claimed, where there was no support from one for the other.  I argued that you were completely wrong for this argument.  I also argued that we should be encouraging religious education in public schools in order to reduce the prevalence of extremism.

But, no.  The important thing was the Separation of Church and State.  Written by God Himself, nobody should even think that the Separation of Church and State might be a bad thing.

Oh, how your uppance has come!  Anti-discrimination laws have an exemption for religious organisations and now you’re crying foul.  Of course, this is the consequence of the Separation of Church and State: the State has to take a ‘hands off’ attitude towards how religious organisations manage themselves.  If Catholics don’t want to hire Jews, that’s a matter for them and they shouldn’t be told otherwise.  Why?  Because there’s this thing (apparently) called the Separation of Church and State.

The Separation of Church and State is not your friend.  What you really want is the Church to be subordinate to the State.  If we want particular religious organisations to be banned (Westborough Baptist Church, for example), then we should be allowed to pass a law which says: ‘Nuts to your folkish beliefs about freedom of religion.  Not in Australia.’  KKK?  Not here.  Forced marriages?  Not here.  And so on and so forth.  Separation of Church and State is tacit approval of the idea that religious freedom is the most important freedom, but it shouldn’t be.  While I respect religious folk — an uncommon trait among modern atheists — I don’t think their religious beliefs about the status of women, for example, should trump the feminist movement’s campaign for equality on their terms.

Caesaropapism, baby.  The State should have authority over the Church; it should not take a ‘hands off’ attitude.

The Second Amendment: An argument against an Australian Bill of Rights #auslaw

I usually put some song lyrics in the title.  A few times now I’ve discussed issues where the fear of looking too glib has meant that I can’t go with that convention.  This is another of those.

First things first, I do not understand why civilians can purchase any kind of gun.  Even for farmers.  When I was a kid, we had guns on the property.  They were used twice: once to deal with a snake, another to deal (unsuccessfully) with a fox.  What sort of moron uses a gun to deal with a snake?  My father.  As I grew up, only the weirdo kids at school were into guns.  They were exactly the kind of people that you didn’t want anywhere near guns.  ‘Maaaate, we shot a defenseless creature.  Awesome.’  Although I know significantly fewer farmers now that I’m an employable nerd, the ones that I do know don’t have guns.  Or any interest in them.  In conclusion, why are guns able to be purchased by individuals?

Second things second, the shooting at the primary school was horrible.  I’m not usually the kind of person who gets emotionally affected by news reports, but this one made me feel ill.  There was nary a minute between seeing the item flash up on my newsfeeds before people went immediately to their stock standard battle positions regarding the Second Amendment.  What is it?  Are we that eager to have opinions about things?  Do we have such an incredible need to find somebody to blame (apart from the obvious person)?  It was just utterly vulgar.

Yesterday’s atrocity is yet further evidence why Australia should not adopt a Bill of Rights.

In 1996, the Howard Government was able to pass legislation to severely restrict the sale of firearms.  It was able to do this because there are very few restrictions on Parliament’s ability to pass legislation (provided there’s a head of power to do so).

When the drafters thought up the Second Amendment, they had no way of knowing that it would result in the school shooting.  No way at all.  When legislation is passed, it’s taken out of the author’s hands and into the legal ether of the court system.  It takes on a life of its own.  Some people might argue that this is a good thing: the Refugees Convention, for example, is doing things that the people who wrote it could not possibly have foreseen.  Other people (like me) look at this with a great deal of suspicion.  If the legislation is taking on a life of its own, how is it being controlled?  In whose interest is the legal principle morphing?

For most laws, there’s an easy remedy to this problem: pass a new law!  Intellectual property law is throwing up weird outcomes?  Law reform!  Contract law is throwing up weird outcomes?  Law reform!  Too many individual pieces of human rights legislation?  Omnibus law reform!

It’s bits of legislation which are difficult to change which throw up huge problems.  The Refugees Convention extends rights to asylum seekers tacitly.  Most of our problems in the debate is a result of people being imprecise with terminology.  If the Refugees Convention were easy to amend, it could be clarified to extend rights to asylum seekers.  Instead, we know that if the Refugees Convention were proposed today, nobody would sign it.  As a piece of legislation, it’s immutably stuck in the past.

Constitutional laws are similarly problematic.  Take section 25 of the Constitution:

For the purposes of the last section, if by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.

I still remember the ‘WTF?’ face I pulled when I first read that section.  Holy crap, it looks horrible.  Disqualifying races from voting?  Oh, those racist white male drafters of the Constitution.  What a bunch of racists.

It turns out that the person who proposed the section, Andrew Inglis Clark, was a progressive visionary.  Section 25 was a way of motivating States to be non-discriminatory in their electoral laws.  If the law of any State discriminates against a race in their electoral laws, the State will be penalised when it comes to representation in Parliament.  It’s really clever.

If you read the YouMeUnity document, you don’t get that background.  I guess ‘Be Informed’ just means ‘Here is the information we want you to have’.  Informed referenda are, it seems, overrated.

Section 25 now looks like a weird bit of historical quirk.  Do we still need this protection in the Constitution?  On the other hand, do we gain anything by removing the protection?  All interesting ideas that you won’t find explored on the websites of people interested in the proposed referendum.

Other sections of the Constitution have played out strangely and, indeed, completely contrary to what the drafter (or, especially, Sam Griffith) thought they would.  Consider  s51(xxxv):

conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State

Until the Engineers’ Case, nobody would have thought that this line would signal an end to implied intergovernmental immunities.

Sir Isaac Isaacs sure showed them.

Short of a referendum, Sir Isaac Isaacs breathing life into the conciliation and arbitration power will be the moment where the course of Australian law changed.  Sure, he got it right on this occasion (screw the States) but this could have gone in an entirely different direction.

And that’s the problem with Constitutional rights.  You don’t know now how the right will end up being deployed tomorrow.  Having a well regulated militia for the security of the State probably sounded like an intuitively obvious assertion back in the 1700s.  Today, we’re affected by another gun-related tragedy.

The rock cried out, ‘I can’t hide you’… A Skeptic’s Response to #HumanRightsDay #auspol #discrimination

I know it.  You know it.  As a conservative, it’s almost expected of me to say it.  I’d feel bad about saying it, but it undoubtedly true.

Human Rights Day is an excuse for lefties to pretend that their assertions are objective facts.

The past two years have taught us a little bit about the word ‘Rights’ and how it’s wielded like a weapon against heretics.  If libertarians ran the Australian Human Rights Commission, you’d see greater emphasis on property rights.  The true champions these past two years are those martyrs who suffered for freedoms against the Nanny State and other forms of regulation.  Andrew Bolt was persecuted by the draconian and illiberal Racial Discrimination Act, yet remained resolute about the importance of freedom of speech.  Tim Wilson championed the intellectual property rights of tobacco companies against acquisition by a non-acquiring State.

And so on and so forth.

We are correct to think we’re better off without those lunatics in charge of the asylum, yet we would be incorrect not to spot the problems with the current arrangements.  The Sydney Peace Foundation, for example, gave their highest award to Julian Assange — a person who’s made it his life quest to make diplomacy more difficult and who refuses to face sexual assault charges.  Ron Merkel, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case against Andrew Bolt, won the 2011 Human Rights Medal — the Human Rights Law Award went to the legal team involved in the ‘Malaysia Solution’ court case.  And Phil Lynch of the Human Rights Law Centre lists increased deference to the United Nations as a success of the human rights movement.

It might amuse a few of my readers that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is a major sponsor of the awards…

It is impossible to detach the idea of celebrating human rights from ideology.  The way we talk about rights necessarily imports our assumptions and intuitions.  The libertarians import ideas about the individual; the progressives import Rawlsian ideas about protecting the disadvantaged.

But unless you share those assumptions, no conversation is possible.

There’s a strong parallel between this conversation and the conversation about religion in politics.  Howard Schweber made a great point in a lecture about the Republic of Reason: we can have a common society with laws and enforced norms because we don’t have private facts taking on authoritative force.  Religious facts that weren’t shared with others were unreasonable and thus crippled the Republic of Reason.

But he then went on to import the idea of rights into his theories about how the State should work…

As a person who is completely atheistic when it comes to rights, this idea espoused by both groups mentioned above is entirely alien to me.  There isn’t a common ground for the discussion to take place when one group thinks that these magical pixie-dust constructs called ‘rights’ are inalienable to a person and entail particular behaviours towards that person.  Thus we get to the position of turning our assertions into objective facts.  ‘No, no,’ I’m told, ‘Rights really do exist and the government is bad for doing everything that it’s doing because of human rights.  Check out this awards ceremony.  Would this awards ceremony exist if rights didn’t exist?’

When Australia Federated, the lack of a Bill of Rights was a sign of how modern and progressive our Constitution was.  I still hold that view.  We have a system of parliamentary sovereignty where the protection of human rights is the job of parliament — not the job of the courts.  Importantly, under the current system, both the libertarians and the progressives are on an equal playing field: they have to convince people to vote for representatives who will pass laws in their favour.  If progressives feel that not enough has been achieved, then they are admitting that they haven’t done enough to convince ordinary Australians to get on the rights bandwagon.

Human Rights Day is a celebration for the other side of politics.  It gives them a platform to get some media exposure to test how interested the broader public is in their campaign to normalise their particular view of rights.  But the public mood on issues such as asylum seeker policy suggests the the human rights movement is suffering the excesses of ivory tower syndrome (and, as an inhabitant of my own personal ivory tower, I’m certainly not one to throw stones).  Perhaps naming a swimmer as a human rights hero (I didn’t quite understand the link) was an attempt to bridge the gap.

The concept of human rights had done enormous good in the world, but the conversation isn’t going to go anywhere while advocates refuse to engage with dissenters.

Throughout the conflict I was serene… Libertarians are awful people

@AdamBrereton sent me this link.

The link discusses a thought experiment:

There are ten people on an island.  Adam Abel, with one day’s hard work, can produce enough to feed all ten people on the island.  Eight of the islanders, with the same hard day’s work, can only produce enough to feed one person.  Hapless Harry, on the other hand, can’t produce any food at all.

1. Do the islanders have a right to tax Adam’s surplus supply in order to support Harry?

2. Suppose Adam only produces enough food to support himself, and relaxes the rest of the day.  Do the bottom nine have a right to force Abel to work more to support Harry?

3. Do the nine have a right to tax Adam’s surplus to raise everyone‘s standard of living above subsistence?

4. Suppose Adam only produces enough food to support himself, and relaxes the rest of the day.  Do the nine have a right to force Adam to work more to raiseeveryone‘s standard of living above subsistence?

Quite a few libertarian bloggers have lost their nut over the above.  The arguments come down to the differences between the various libertarian branches, with the extremes being:

1. OMG the only right is the property right a person has over themselves.  Adam Abel would totally be a slave if the others taxed his surplus.

2. Something, something, something, Dark Side.

Often, it’s the way we construct a question which forces our hand when answering.  The above thought experiment, out of necessity, blurs and simplifies a lot of issues in order to get to the core point: taxation is just like slavery.

But, more importantly, it also frames the questions in terms of rights.  The islanders aren’t moral, cultured people; they’re little bags of rights.  Does Adam Abel have a property right?  Are his rights being respected by the guy who just wants to live?  Does the guy who wants to live have any rights worth mentioning?  &c. &c.

The thought experiment shows why it’s important to reject the rights-dialogue.  It fosters the idea of the individual as being in constant threat of other individuals.  Even the Harm Principle — you have rights up to the point that they interfere with somebody else’s rights — is built on this assumption of the negative impacts of interaction.

If we replace the rights-dialogue with virtue ethics, we get a very different outcome.  What should the islanders do if they are all trying to be excellent people?  Beefing it up to a virtue politics: what should the islanders do together if they are trying to be an excellent society?  Adam accepts his obligations to the others because he would not prefer to live in a society where his laziness results in the death of somebody else.  The islanders come to the arrangement that everybody produces food (except Harry).  They put the surplus into storage so they can reward the entire community with holidays.

Seriously, libertarians, hunter-gatherer societies worked this shit out thousands of years ago.  Wake up.

They’re not half as bad as me say anything and I’ll agree… Geoffrey Robertson and Big Tobacco

Advocates of an Australian Charter of Rights concentrate almost exclusively on its humanitarian benefits, ignoring the obvious ways in which the wealthy and powerful will exploit their good intentions.  One of the least critical champions of an Australian Charter of Rights is celebrity QC Geoffrey Robertson.

In Statute of Liberty, Robertson outlines a proposal for a charter of rights.  The book exemplifies the shallowness of thought which has plagued Robertson in recent years (see, for example, The Case Against the Pope).  While his arguments in favour of a charter of rights are eloquent and articulate (if wrong-headed), he dismisses any opposition to his case as ‘charterphobia’.  An interesting development in Australian law is about to show precisely why the ‘charterphobia’ was rational.

The Australian Government has outlined its proposal to enforce plain-packaging for cigarettes.  Various health groups are in favour of it and it doesn’t seem as if the opposition will oppose it.  British American Tobacco Australia, on the other hand, will and will mount a case defending their intellectual property rights.

Let us imagine, for a moment, if Robertson’s charter had been adopted complete with its ‘property’ right.  Instead of being a difficult argument to mount — that BATA has an investment in its brands which should be protected by law — Robertson would have given them a free kick.  It would have been trivially easy for BATA to argue that the charter of rights protects their property and, as such, the Government’s proposal is unlawful.

When thinking about rights issues, it’s not enough to trumpet what you’ll receive; you also have to wonder what others will take away.  We dodged a bullet.

Good fights about big things… Freedom of speech is a cloak for ratbags

Andrew Bolt is getting sued by a group of white-skinned Aborigines.

Chris Berg from the IPA thinks this is a terrible thing.

John Izzard from the Quadrant thinks this is a terrible thing.

Luke Wallage from some PR firm thinks this is a terrible thing.

Chris Merritt from The Australian thinks this is a terrible thing (bemoaning the importance of public debate six pages after dedicating an entire page and a quarter of the front page to the message that Bob Brown should ‘take[] action to stop [the watermelon faction of the Greens] from promoting [trade sanctions against Israel].’  Greg Sheridan even says they’re ‘very close to being outright anti-Semitic’).

And just to show that it isn’t just one side of politics: Jonathon Holmes from Media Watch thinks this is a terrible thing.

Mind you, Bolt doesn’t mind making veiled threats to silence people who mock him.  I guess freedom of speech is only important when you’re the one who’s making the speeches.  But let us judge Bolt on what he says and not on what he does.

As we all know, I’m very conservative.  I’m so conservative that I wonder what Robert Menzies would think of today’s crop of ‘conservatives’.  I’m so conservative that I — like the Sainted Bob Menzies himself — wonder if laissez-faire freedom of speech is the absolute right that so many white males in the media seem to think that it is.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a fan of repressive censorship, but it’s a long stretch to go from ‘Hey, certain things shouldn’t be allowed in the public arena’ to ‘THIS IS JUST LIKE NAZI GERMANY’.  There’s a grey area in the middle and, somewhere in that murk, I think the line between appropriate speech and inappropriate speech lives.

For example, I think the views of David Irving live on the other side of that line.  I don’t think that the Jewish community in Australia (of which I’m not a member) should have to live in a society in which allows people to advocate Holocaust denial.  It is grossly offensive, ignorant, and attracts nutcases like flies.  If it became profitable for shock jocks to advocate that the Holocaust did not happen, you can bet your back teeth that they’d do it.  We, as a society, have a legitimate interest in preventing that from happening.

Along the same kind of reasoning, I do not believe that people should have to live in a society which allows people to challenge their legitimate ethnicity.  That (appears) to be what happened in the Bolt case and it ought to be forbidden.  If it causes newspapers to doublethink printing such obscenities, causing self-censorship (as Merritt believes that it will), then all the better.

In each of the cases articles above, there is an unchallenged assumption that the writers’ right to say whatever they like about whomever they like is sacrosanct.  There’s barely a mention of the alternative point of view in the media because it does not even occur to them (old white males all) that there could be something more important than their right to say what they like.  It’s almost shocking that they cannot picture themselves in the position of the litigants.  Their opinions are awarded absolutely no consideration.

Holmes article at least provides some sort of reason for why it’s so terrible: he hints at the idea it’s because the harm can’t be quantified.  It’s an argument I’ve heard from my friends as well, and it seems to run like this:

1. Being offended is subjective.

2. People should harden up and stop being princesses.

3. [Insert some sort of entailment premiss]

C. There should not be a law which prevents people from saying things which are hurtful or upsetting.

The underlying assumption is that emotional distress is not worthy of consideration, unlike physical distress.  If somebody punches me, I can sue them.  If somebody offends me, I can not.

Some of my friends go even further and claim that defamation law is an unfair infringement on their right to spout rubbish about other people.  The underlying idea behind defamation law is that it is possible to harm a person’s reputation in a way which is actionable.  It is interesting that the Merritt article links defamation to the case against Bolt (but doesn’t bother to analyse the link).

Where the argument falls down is that emotional distress is worthy of legal consideration.  The next person who suggests otherwise will have to suffer the slings and arrows of my torts textbook.  The fun part about getting compensation for emotional distress is that the media likes to whinge about it as well (‘overcompensation’).

There are no good reasons why Bolt should be allowed to say what he did beyond the boohooery of ratbags who think that their ‘rights’ outweigh their responsibility to maintain an inclusive, civilised polity.

For my money, I hope Australian Muslims sue him next.

All of the boys and the girls here in Paris… also think there are objective moral wrongs

I endured Steven Spielberg’s A.I. last night (and if you’re morbidly curious what my running commentary was like, you can find it here).  One part in particular stuck out for me.  As you’re never going to watch this film, I’m sure a SPOILER ALERT isn’t needed, but here it is anyway:

SPOILER ALERT.

At one point, the nasty humans — or ‘Orgas’ as they’re known in the film — go hunting unregistered robots — a.k.a. ‘Mechas’ — and hold a circus where the Orgas torture the Mechas.  One Mecha pleads for its ‘life’ before it’s put into a cannon and shot.  The last we see is its burning face sliding down the cage wall while the crowd cheers.  A disturbingly attractive Mecha — played by Clara Bellar — has acid poured on her and the crowd cheers as she dissolves.

They draw the line with the protagonist because they mistakenly think it’s a real boy.

This neatly touches upon a broader problem in philosophy caused by the dominance of the rights discourse in modern applied ethics.  Most people are intuitionists: they can’t tell why what they’re doing is moral and correct, but they can generally spot the difference between good actions and wrong actions with bellyfeel.  It’s one of the roles of the philosopher to help people elucidate what they believe and how they can reason with others about what they believe. Continue reading

I like to wait to see how things turn out… but we had the better constitution

There were lots of strange claims surrounding the recent report into whether we should have a Bill of Rights in Australia.  The strangest of these were those which compared us unfavourably to the United States.  In the U.S., it was claimed, the citizens enjoy the benefits of a vast array of rights which are completely and totally denied to Australians.

It is sad that we seem to be so keenly aware of the United States’ Bill of Rights and yet so ignorant of history.  There are such excellent examples of how the Australian system afforded much better protection of our rights than were ever recognised in the U.S.

In the 1950s, for example, the Menzies Government passed legislation to outlaw the Communist Party of Australia.  In quite an amazing judgement, the High Court of Australia declared that the provisions of the Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950 were invalid in whole.  Menzies tried to get around this with a referendum but failed.

Compare this with a similar situation in the United States.  The Communist Control Act 1954 was passed and several other Acts were updated to provide more legitimacy for what had become McCarthyism.  Despite several cases going before the Supreme Court, SCOTUS never protected the rights of citizens to hold pro-Communist/Socialist beliefs.

The U.S. system works by defining rights — despite handwaving in the 9th the fact that it’s not limiting the number of rights apparently held by citizens.  In Australia, we don’t.  We have a judicial system which uses a commonsensical attitude which prevents legislatures from ‘gaming the rules’.  As McCarthyism demonstrated, the same was not true in the U.S.  Why, then, we would idolise the Bill of Rights completely baffles me.

But there were planes to catch and bills to pay… and so we needed a web filter to protect your children

Okay, the title of the post is a lie but it’s a frequently heard lie.

It amazes me that I most often hear this lie from opponents of the web filter. The argument appears to run like this:

1. They’re bringing a web filter to protect the children.

2. The web filter won’t protect the children.

C. Therefore, we shouldn’t have a web filter.

In our insatiable desire to be the United States in the Southern Hemisphere, opponents of the web filter have been screaming incoherently about their rights to access anything and everything through the internet — especially the stuff they don’t want to access. One friend of mine said that the web filter was an incompetent impingement on her rights because the filter could be circumvented. Another friend cited the Sydney Morning Herald which incoherently compared the web filter to speed humps on a highway.

It turns out that — hold on to your hats, folks — there’s a huge trade involved in getting illegal items through Customs. I know. You’re completely shocked that the drug industry imports drugs from overseas. Customs catches a great deal of it but, given that there are imported drugs in Australia, they’re can be evaded.

I don’t think there are too many people around who would argue with a straight face that Customs is an incompetent inpingement on their rights. Yet when we have what is essentially the internet equivalent of Customs, people cry foul.

The filter takes out the huge grey area with issues such as pornography. It might be that I’m a huge misanthrope but I can fairly easily imagine the AFP busting a pornography ring and people using as their defence that they did not know that the stuff they were accessing was illegal.

But if they have to deliberately go out of their way to circumvent a filter to access illegal material, it’s obvious that they know what they’re doing is illegal. They are deliberately setting out to commit a crime. There’s no grey area here and I think that’s a good thing.

This material is already illegal. If you’re caught with this stuff by Customs, it’s game over for you. Continue reading