Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Conroy's Con - the new grass-roots campaign against the Government's mandatory internet filter

On Monday 21 December 2009, I attended the Brisbane Stop Internet Censorship Public Meeting. The meeting was organised by Nicholas Perkins and had a fantastic turnout - close to 90 people! There is clearly a lot of interest around this issue.

The meeting was focused on what we can do to get the message out about Conroy's mandatory filter and the negative impacts it will have. Mainly, that the filter will NOT stop child pornography or protect children from the dangers that lurk online (including online predators and cyber bullying) but it DOES pose a serious risk of political censorship.

It was generally agreed that at present, we are losing the great internet filter battle. Conroy has used strong rhetoric that casts anyone who opposes the filter into the role of child pornographer (or at least, supporter of child pornography). Further, we are not aided by our own "geekiness" - as tech-savvy Twitteratti, we do not appeal to mainstream Australia who may not know what a "feed" is, let alone the significance of the "clean feed" proposal.

So what can we do?

The answer is a lot. But we need to do it fast, and we need to apply a lot of pressure consistently. We need to reach both the pollies and the general Australian public, and we need to turn this debate around soon or the battle is lost for good.

The Stop Internet Censorship meeting had two speakers, each of whom presented compelling options for moving forward. Each speaker took a completely different approach, but I believe that both approaches can be effective and if we apply them together, even more so.

Nicolas Suzor from Electronic Frontiers Australia spoke first and outlined the importance of keeping this debate rational. He argued that we shouldn't get sidetracked on issues of speed. The most important issues relate to censorship and control, and the fact that the RC list has a far wider ambit than child porn. Nic stated that the most effective thing we can do in terms of reaching the politicians is letter-writing. Many MPs do not really have a clear idea of what this debate is about. We should inform them and make our case. Write, write write! EFA has provided a template on their website, if you are not sure what to write.

Nic also highlighted the Great Australian Internet Blackout, an online protest that runs from 25th - 29th January, in which you can blackout your online profile picture and/or website to protest against the filter. Additionally, Michael Meloni of Somebody Think of the Children has developed a website called The Gift of Censorship, which allows you to leave a short (500 characters or less) message for Stephen Conroy. For every 1000 messages sent, Michael will send a Christmas stocking of coal to the Senator.

Finally, Australia Day is the national day of action for this debate. EFA are asking you to spread the word about what the filter really means for Australians, by bringing it up at your Australia Day Party.

The next speaker was Cameron Reilly, who spoke about the propaganda techniques that Conroy has used to swing the debate his way. Sometimes, you need to fight fire with fire, and in addition to the more reasoned approaches above, we may need to develop our own propaganda techniques. We need to bring this issue to the masses.

Andrew Bartlett suggested "Conroy's Con" as our slogan. More meetings will follow to discuss what techniques we can employ to show mainstream Australia that this filter is not what Conroy promises. Importantly, we need Mums and Dads, family groups and church groups on our side.

To find out more about the next meeting, visit

Videos of the December meeting have been posted on YouTube.
You can see Nicholas Perkins speaking here
Nic Suzor is here
Cameron Reilly is here and here
and the public debate is here, here and here

You can also see the Twitter feed from the night by searching for #sicbne

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I think my blogging is over for the day... #bbfqld

We are engaging in general discussion now in Brisbane, which probably means it is easier to follow this via Twitter, rather than me trying to follow it all.

So, I guess this is where I sign off.

Phew! It’s all over! Live blogging is exhausting – not to mention trying to keep track of the twitter feeds, the Google Wave discussions and all the other activity going on! There has been a hive of activity here in Brisbane and I can only imagine the same (or more) has occurred in Sydney.

I think the Brisbane forum has been very successful and thank you to everyone who attended, whether in person or online. I’d also like to extend thanks to the wonderful speakers on the program today, Prof Anne Fitzgerald and Paul O’Keeffe for organising the forum, Pia Waugh, Senator Kate Lundy and our friends at the main forum in Sydney, other members of our research team – Elliott Bledsoe, Jessica Coates, Cheryl Foong and Jimmy Ti – for helping with taking notes, making tweets and taking photos, and finally Patrice Meixsell-Draper and the QUT AV services and technical services teams for assisting with the venue, wireless connectivity and audio recording of today’s events.

Brisbane forum #bbfqld - Stream 5: e-Community

The final stream (Stream 5 – e-Community) was facilitated by Fee Plumley of the Australia Council for the Arts.

Fee described the Geeks in Residence program that the Australia Council is running – putting “geeks” within arts organisations to help them with their digital agenda.

The Geeks in Residence program is interested in three things:

  1. What innovation can take place around artistic programming?
  2. Audience development (marketing through digital – but this needs to be done strategically – must build community of users within the organisation) – need cultural change within the organisation – staff are taught to use networking in a productive way
  3. General operations – something often overlooked in terms of how technologies can improve productivity

Fee also made the point very well that it is important to have clear and sensible policy around use of social networking in the workplace. You must let your staff engage with and network with their communities online. Talking about their work with passion to others is just as important as the actual work. Passion spreads the message further.

Discussion then turned (very strongly) to copyright. Fee made the following arguments:

The first thing we must do, alongside the NBN, is to re-examine the copyright system. All we have currently is blockades, because the old organisations are just working to preserve old industry and old business models. This may rock the boat – but the boat needs to be rocked.

We need to get Creative Commons, APRA, MEAA, whoever, to work together – to try a number of case studies of business and copyright models with difference content and different audiences – to see what happens. Sick of hearing “it can’t be done” and closed doors – let’s do it as an experiment! If at the end, the best answer is to shut down the process and fiercely protect the copyright, then “I will shut up”. We need to let new business models develop. We must demand that even though we are small and niche (“the arts”), we have an important part within the economic system. We need knowledge investment. We must question why we accept models from the past.

Other debate –

Fee Plumley: Artists need to stop feeling bad about asking for money. The subsidising system makes artists feel like beggars.

Elliott Bledsoe: Similarly, artists need to stop expecting other people (intermediaries) to ask for money for them.

Fee Plumley: There must be a balance across the whole space. We don’t just want commercially-driven art

Brisbane Forum #bbfqld - Stream 4: e-Business

In the e-Business stream we had an overview of the Peer to Patent Australia Project from Professor Brian Fitzgerald. I'll let you see my earlier (more extensive post) for information about this project and I'd also encourage you to visit the website.

There was also some general discussion around some e-business issues, all of which were well covered via the twitter stream (#bbfqld) - so again, I will let you read the tweets there.

Brisbane Forum #bbfqld - Stream 3: Digital Education

Stream 3 was on digital education.

First up was Linda Pitt, Manager, Discovery Programs, eLearning, QLD Department of Education and Training. Linda gave an overview of The Learning Place. I encourage you to check it out – they are doing some fantastic things.

The Learning Places works on the theory that a robust digital education infrastructure involves three limbs – digital pedagogies, digital content, and e-learning spaces. It is trying to give students a ‘real-world’ experience through online networks. It is encourage use of digital spaces (such as Second Life) and tools such as blogging. It helps to have people blog their teaching and learning experiences to share with others and grow from everyone’s experiences.

Some other points made by Linda:

  • Smart Classrooms not only need bandwidth they need access to trained facilitators that can show students how to learn online (via @MichaelSmale)
  • One of the biggest problems for the learning place is low bandwidth in most QLD schools – only have a small number of schools with definite broadband – this is poor
  • We want teachers to be able connect with experts out there, and we want teachers and students and students and students to be able to connect with each other, no matter where they are.

Second up was Professor Greg Hearn, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (QUT), Director Creative Workforce Program.

Main points made by Greg about new broadband technologies were:

  • There is potential for a major paradigm shift in education
  • We need innovation in all three layers (technology, content, social) to have real progress in education
  • Some provocations for education –

o Is the music industry a model for the education system? Do we need new business and content models? What is the disruptive innovation that will bring about a paradigm shift in education?

o Should bots (online games) be adopted as the new primary school classroom?

o How do we harvest and accredit web 2.0 learning?

o Which is a more important budget item – the teacher or the IT infrastructure? They are roughly 50/50 at the moment – what should we spend more on?

o Who will be the gatekeeper of the virtual classrooms (that have no boundaries)

o Which physical facilities still add value in the education process?

Greg then moved on to facilitating discussion around some specific discussion points.

We focused on the two later discussion points of those provided to us by the main forum:

(2) Reality Check – what is holding us back?

  • The digital literacy of the educators (may need retraining)
  • One of the key restraints in our current education = regression in the mean i.e. we need to tailor programs to the less able students. One of the big changes that broadband can offer is bringing experts closer to students and tailoring education to the individual.
  • How will we create the right environment for teachers to be able to handle multiple students using multiple technologies, at different levels and in different regions? – it will bust apart the system – it is a challenge – but we need to create digital support networks.

(3) Next steps – what needs to be done?

  • Why don’t we de-regulate the university curriculum and let students do the individual courses they want to take?
  • Individuals will be better catered for in an open system

Brisbane Forum #bbfqld - Stream 2: e-Health

The second stream at #bbfqld was about e-Health.

The first presentation was from Alan Taylor, Director of Coeenet@qld, Radiology Informatics Program, Queensland Health.

Alan made the following points:
  • There will be a huge demand for e-Health applications, including for health records, health monitoring, video conferencing etc
  • Large investments in e-Health infrastructure will be needed.
  • There is absence of broadband competition outside the south-east corner of Queensland.
  • We need to understand the issues according to area and what are the issues for different people – health care providers, specialists, patients etc.
  • Health care needs a range of special security and privacy measures appropriate to the context of use.
  • Healthcare information needs a range of guarantees that information is available within stated timeframes
  • Health care traffic is symmetric. Asymmetric “residential” type services are not a good fit. Healthcare traffic requires “quality of service”
  • How will we know whether NBN is on track for healthcare needs? Questions to consider in assessing this – can we get competitive services throughout Queensland and can those services connect with each other? Can we get business grade services for health and government in both regional and metropolitan areas? Will the NBN services support symmetric traffic? Will there be sufficient bandwidth?

Importantly, Alan argued that we need to lobby for investment in Queensland. Funding for digital investment in regional areas absent in Queensland.

Alan also showed a video that demonstrated the different that technology makes to health in rural QLD. Crucially, it helps in making quick decisions about whether patients need transport to other facilities. It is about having up-to-date, accurate information, to make rapid, well-informed decisions. This enhances patient care.

The second speaker was David Hansen, a research scientist from CSIRO. David gave a number of thrilling examples of how CSIRO are using digital technologies in medical research – e.g. to map progression of Alzheimer’s, and many other things. I can’t really do the research justice by explaining in short-form here, but we will endeavour to make the slide set and audio recording available online soon.

General discussion report

Alan Taylor: We need the broadband, but we also need the smart people to get the right management of legal issues and proper business models to actually use the broadband and implement all the possibilities the broadband offers

Q: [Jessica Coates] How hard is training for people with digital technologies?

A: [David Hansen] – Generally you need a clinical champion to actually push the technology in the first place, but once people see the possibilities and how it all works, they generally get very excited about using it.

[Alan Taylor]: Most clinicians can see they need to do things better. Problem is knowing when they can use new technologies – will it save time and money? Will it expose them to risk of clinical malpractice?

Brisbane #bbfqld : Stream 1 - Smart Infrastructure

The first stream to be considered in the Brisbane forum was Smart Infrastructure.

Associate Professor James Hogan from QUT's Science & Technology Faculty presented first. He started with a succinct but important quote from
Microsoft: “It is not longer possible to do science without a computer”.

James spoke about some projects in his field - namely, how smart infrastructure is being used to measure environmental health. Digital instruments (similar to "smart phones") record environmental acoustics to "emulate scientific eyes and ears" in measuring environmental health. There are two such projects currently being undertaken - one to measure the sounds (and therefore the movements and health) of koalas at St Bee's Island, and another to measure the sounds of Lewins Rail (a type of bird) in the Brisbane Airport surrounds. Broadband helps to take this scientific data from the field and share it with others faster and more broadly, to have greater impact.

The second speaker in this stream was Lucy Cradduck, a lecturer in business law at the University of the Sunshine Coast and a SJD candidate in law at QUT.

Lucy made some important points about the challenges facing us in rolling out the national broadband network (NBN). These include:

  • Literacy: Access to information is about people being digitally literate – it is important that all people with capacity to access the NBN are fully digitally literate. If we do not have everyone able to understand, as well as everyone able to access, then we cannot move forward properly.

  • Physical infrastructure: New networks need to be constructed in infill (mainly urban and regional) and greenfield (mainly regional and rural). There are unique issues in greenfield sites, in particular cost and how the cables are going to be treated. Will they be treated the same as other utilities? There must be proper interoperability between old networks and new. Upgrading existing hardware and software needs to be efficient.

So what steps do we need to make in moving forward?

  • We need consistent policies across Australia on what must be provided for all not just Greenfield

  • Specific issues for rural and regional Australia must be addressed

- We cannot create an “underclass of the NBN have-nots”

  • We need to consider how to treat the cost of creating the network – who pays and when for access to the network?

[Note: I think (hope) that both James and Lucy's slides will be made available online in the next few days.]

Group discussion record

Q: What legal issues does the NBN throw up?

A: [Lucy Cradduck] One big issue is net neutrality – making sure that the NBN is open, that the content and system providers do not control what material we can have access to. Currently, Telstra controls most (if not all) of the internet exchanges. But moving forward, the NBN should be completely neutral so anyone can use it; anyone can gain access.

Q: So what are the key net neutrality issues we need to be aware of moving forward?

A: [Brian Fitzgerald] Part of the innovation of the internet means you don’t try to predetermine the uses of the internet. One of the critical issues around network neutrality is how strongly you enforce the requirement of net neutrality. And how far do we let people tinker with the internet to prevent copyright infringement or for censorship or for a range of other reasons.

Anne Fitzgerald: Law is part of the infrastructure and the interaction between law and technology is fundamental for access.

Brian Fitzgerald and others: The law could be more customised for more digital environments.

Extending broadband to rural Queensland #bbfqld #bbfuture

In light of the comments that the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has made this morning about extending broadband services across regional Australia, and linking broadband with economic growth and equality, I would like to share a comment made on the Brisbane forum website:

Graham Storrs said:

I live in rural Queensland. When I moved here 2 years ago, I had no phone line. It took a year and a complaint to the ombusman to get a line installed – at a cost to me of thousands of dollars. There is no ADSL of course, I’m too far from an enabled exchange.

I can get wireless ‘broadband’ via Telstra’s NextG service (no other supplier covers my house – so I’m in a monopoly market here) but the signal is weak (even with an external antenna) and the bit-rate is extremely low – so low that I can’t listen to streaming audio or watch streamed video without it stuttering and pausing all the time. And it is expensive, of course, being Telstra. The best package I can afford has a 5Gb upload/download limit – not enough to use every day and still have any spare for listening to music or watching video (even if I could). So, for $80 a month, I get a very basic, very slow service, and no option to change supplier.

Oh, and forget about smartphones like the iPod. They just don’t work at such low signal strengths (although, thankfully, my Kindle does – most of the time.)

Most city-dwellers, certainly no politicians, have a clue how primitive things are out here. Whatever the ‘broadband future’ is for urban Australia, for much of rural Australia, it’s a joke.

I must admit that as a "city-dweller" I had no idea things were this bad in rural Queensland. I do believe that fast internet = better opportunities for education, connecting with others, and much, much more. I have no knowledge about the physical logistics of extending quality broadband to rural Australia, but I do hope we can do something to improve the situation.

Realising our Broadband Future - Introduction #bbfuture #bbqld

Today, I am at the Brisbane node (#bbfqld) of the Realising Our Broadband Future Forum (#bbfuture). I will be attempting to live blog the day, and add substantive points to the forum wiki throughout the day. There will be less need for me to blog this morning while, on the Brisbane program, we are simply watching the live stream from the main event. These events will be captured on video and, I'm sure, by the many attendees in Sydney. However, from 10:30am we will be facilitating our own discussions on the 5 streams (Smart Infrastructure, Digital Education, e-Community, e-Health, and e-Business) here in Brisbane, and I will be doing my best to capture those discussions. Apologies in advance if my notes are rather rough.

My colleague, Elliott Bledsoe, will be twittering the Brisbane event. You can following his Twitter feed directly, or follow the #bbqld stream.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Peer to Patent Australia launches today

Today, 9 December 2009, the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in collaboration with IP Australia launches the Peer to Patent Australia (P2P Au) project.

This project follows on from the Peer to Patent projects run recently out of the New York Law School (NYLS) and the Japanese Patent Office, and is designed to improve the patent examination process and the quality of issued patents.

P2P Au is led by Professor Brian Fitzgerald at QUT and is using Web 2.0 technology to assist patent examiners in their assessment of whether an invention is new and inventive and thereby deserving of the grant of a patent. With approximately 1 million patents being applied for across the world each year the task of examiners especially in assessing new technologies has become increasingly difficult. By harnessing the power of community experts through Web 2.0 technologies, Peer to Patent Australia aims to make the patent examination process more efficient and accurate.

Peer-to-Patent Australia will initially run as a 6-month pilot that will focus on the rapidly advancing technology areas of business methods and computer software. Up to 40 business method, computer software and related patent applications that have been filed in Australia and which are open for public inspection will each be posted on the Peer-to-Patent Australia website for a 90-day period. During that time, members of community can review those applications, submit prior art references and comment on the relevance of any prior art that has been put forward.

At the end of the review period, P2P Au will forward the top 10 prior art submissions for each application, as selected by the community of reviewers, to IP Australia for consideration in the examination process. The review process in no way abrogates the responsibility of the patent examiner to assess a patent application. Prior art submitted by P2P Au is solely designed to assist a patent examiner, who remains the arbiter of whether a patent is to be granted.

The project uses a consent based model. Patent applicants will be asked to consent to having their applications included in the pilot. There are currently 7 applicants who have consented to participate. These are IBM, Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited, General Electric Company, Hewlett-Packard, Residex Pty Ltd, Yahoo and CSIRO. Those applicants have put forward 18 patent applications for peer review. 15 of those will be made available at the launch.

For anyone who is interested in participating in the prior-art-search, sign up at

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

R18+ rating for computer games rally - notes, photos and video now online

On Saturday, I attended a rally in Brisbane in support of an R18+ rating for computer games. The rally was well organised and had a decent turn-out.

A summary of events, photos and links to video recordings of the rally are now available on the Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) website.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Realising our Broadband Future - Brisbane consultative forum at QUT

On Thursday 10 and Friday 11 December 2009, the Australian Government Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) will be holding the Realising Our Broadband Future Forum in Sydney.

For anyone in Brisbane who is interested but unable to attend the main event, we are holding a Brisbane consultative forum on Thursday 10 December 2009 at QUT. This forum will include segements of the official video feed by live webcast, as well as facilitated discussion aligned with the themes of the national summit. The discussion session will be summarised and provided as feedback to the DBCDE summit.

We’re talking about our connected future. This isn’t about technology, it’s about how we can all use it – to connect communities, build businesses, improve our education and health systems, create and innovate, improve our quality of life for all.

Details -

Thursday, December 10, 2009 from 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM (GMT+1000)

QUT Gardens Point campus - D block, room 101
2 George St
Brisbane, Queensland 4000

Register online

If you’d like more information, please contact Paul O’Keeffe on 0423 358 827 or by email to paul.okeeffe[at]

You can also follow the Queensland Twitter feed through #bbfqld – and the main summit at #bbfuture.


The forum begins at 8:00am (not 8:30 as stated above). I should have also mentioned that registration is free.

Here are the updated details and program:

08.00 - 10.15 Registration and Plenary Session from Sydney (the Prime Minister's address runs from 8.05 to 8.35am Brisbane time; other speakers include Mike Quigley (NBN Co. CEO, Vint Cerf and Senator Conroy )
10.35 Stream 1 – Smart Infrastructure
11.20 Stream 2 – e-Health
12.05 Stream 3 – Digital Education
12.55 Lunch Break
13.30 Stream 4 – e-Business
14.15 Stream 5 – e-Community
15.30 Conference close

The Brisbane consultation forum will be held at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Gardens Point campus, in D block room 101. (D block is immediately behind A block, nearest to the George Street entrance to the campus).