Navigation: Return to: Seth Finkelstein - EFF 2001 Pioneer Award or Anticensorware Investigations

Seth Finkelstein's EFF Pioneer Award - Irene Graham's nomination

Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2001 18:49:56 +1000
To: pioneer[at-sign]
From: Irene Graham <rene[at-sign]>
Subject: Nomination for Pioneer Award

I write to nominate Seth Finkelstein for an EFF Pioneer Award. Seth may be contacted by email to <sethf[at-sign]> or phone [SF: redacted]

As you may be aware, I am the Executive Director of Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc (since May 2000). I have been engaged in free speech activism since a few months after acquiring Net access in April 1995 and have been a member of the EFA Board since February 1996 (other than during the Oct 96/97 year).

I submit this nomination in a personal capacity as I wish to refer to my personal knowledge of Seth's contributions, which includes information provided to me on a confidential basis (and made known to the EFF Awards Committee last year).

Since at least 1995 Seth has been active in raising the level of public awareness about the dangers of censorware and rating/labelling schemes to freedom of communication, thereby arming many others around the world with information of great assistance in the fight against government mandated use of these products.

Seth's activities have involved both technical and educational work.

I understand that EFF is already aware of Seth's technical work as early as 1996, having been advised by a person who nominated Seth last year that the nomination contained such information. I've also observed that the EFF Statement about HR4577 of 22 Dec 2000 recognises that Seth was "the programmer principally responsible for the investigation of X-Stop filtering software and its flaws, vital to the landmark Mainstream Loudon victory". I therefore refer the Awards Committee to previously received information rather than repeating it herein.

Seth has since continued his technical work, for example, see the following reports:
- "SmartFilter's Greatest Evils - why censorware must blacklist privacy, anonymity, and translators"
- "SmartFilter - I've Got A Little List - Why SmartFilter's blacklist cannot be human-reviewed, and the legal risks of anticensorware investigations"

Seth's technical work has been very helpful to opponents of censorship globally, not only those in the USA. As you may be aware, in 1999 the Australian Government introduced a Bill which, briefly, required ISPs to implement technical means to block adults' access to (uncertain) content on the Net. The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and The Arts made statements such as:

"I've had a couple of new technology companies comes to see me in recent days and it really opens your eyes. One of them are using what is called eye filter. It's based on an American technology where they have physically tracked eight and a half million web sites and are able to then check them and determine whether they would offend against a classification regime. And they can then guarantee you clean sites."

In the absence of Seth's prior technical work exposing what a variety of censorware products do and don't block, I believe it would have been markedly more difficult for opponents of the Australian Bill to achieve amendments that, in effect, removed the requirement that ISPs block adults' access at the server level. While there were also issues of technical and commercial feasibility involved relative to ISP implementation, in countries such as Australia where there is no constitutional right to freedom of communication, the availability of hard facts showing that the claims of censorware suppliers (and some politicians) are not accurate is more important and helpful in fighting censorship than some people in countries where there is such a right may perceive it to be.

While Seth's technical work is especially meritorious, he has also made a significant contribution in educating other people about censorware-related issues. Seth has strived, since at least 1995, to raise public awareness of the potential for use of censorware and 'voluntary' rating/labelling systems to be enforced, either by law, or by private entities under government threat.

Seth's writings played a major part in popularising the term "censorware" which assisted in increasing public awareness that many products referred to as "filtering software" were capable of and likely to be used to enforce censorship systems. While several years ago use of the term "censorware" brought criticism of the speaker, it is now commonly and widely used without attracting such criticism.

Seth's educational-type activities played a major role, for example, in my becoming aware of the threat that PICS-facilitated rating/labelling schemes presented to freedom of communication in Australia.

Having studied the mechanics of old censorship systems, Seth used past examples to inform online discussions about Internet rating/labelling systems, and commented that knowledge of the history of censorship systems was necessary background to comprehending the threat to free speech posed by Net rating/labelling systems. This prompted me to research Australian off-line censorship and its history and I become aware, for example, that the initially voluntary Australian classification/labelling scheme for (un)certain types of offline publications had subsequently been mandated by law. In the latter part of 1996, during online discussions about the UK R3 Safety-Net plan, Seth remarked that a FAQ about rating/labelling schemes was needed as the same questions were being answered (often by him) time and time again. By this stage, I'd concluded that PICS-facilitated rating/labelling schemes posed a serious threat to freedom of communication in Australia. Among other things, the 1996 Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, which was to become the Net content regulator, had stated that "PICS-type systems...might have to be enforced". Seth's idea of a FAQ prompted me to write such a document which included, among other things, issues that had I'd become aware of from Seth's writings, and use it to launch public debate in Australia ( ). While it is not known whether Australian regulators were seriously considering enforcing PICS-type systems, it is fair to say that the ensuing debate put them on notice that an attempt to mandate labelling would be met with significant public opposition and there has been no such formal proposal in Australia to date. The "Net Labelling Delusion" section of my site, which I started with the FAQ type document suggested by Seth, remains one of the most frequently accessed pages on my web site, four years later.

In summary, Seth has not only raised the level of public awareness about the dangers of censorware and rating/labelling schemes to freedom of communication via his own work, he has also armed other free speech activists with relevant knowledge and information. Seth was one of the first, probably the first, to start doing so, often in the face of considerable criticism from people who apparently did not share his knowledge and vision. To free speech activists in countries where there is no constitutional impediment to government mandated use of censorware, nor to mandatory self-labelling of speech, and an entrenched government mandated classification/labelling system for off-line speech, the value and importance of Seth's work is perhaps more readily obvious than elsewhere.

I consider that Seth's technical work in exposing the truth about censorware, of itself, demonstrates his worthiness as a recipient of an EFF Pioneer Award. I also consider that his pioneering activism in raising the level of public awareness about the threats to free speech posed by censorware and rating/labelling systems warrants recognition.

I will be happy to provide further information if desired and may be contacted by email, or by phone [SF: redacted]

Yours sincerely
Irene Graham

Mail comments to: Seth Finkelstein <>

Return to: Seth Finkelstein - EFF 2001 Pioneer Award or Anticensorware Investigations