The Absence of Light

This page written circa 1 Feb, 2010.

Mobile Broadband in Australia is a big thing, with most carriers offering "USB Dongles" for around A$100 with monthly plans starting at $20 and prepaid coming in at around 10Gb for $150 with a 12 month expiry or $20 for circa 200Mb with 30 day expiry. Topups start at $10.

Denis's place is on Cronulla beach, adjacent to wonderful cafe society, and 45 minutes' train ride from the heart of Sydney. Telstra has 3G coverage to this delicious outpost, but there is a choice of at least 4 carriers. Faced with the fact that the vast majority of wireless networks here are encrypted, I bought a dongle locked to Telstra. Blissful connectivity for around 10c/Mb, 10c/10kb roaming overseas.

Why do most people encrypt and thus prevent strangers using their networks? Most plans do not have unlimited data and data is unusually expensive there (~1c/Mb), but in general Australia is pretty tight-arsed. There has been a running argument between two of my friends for years over whether Australia can be described as a "police state". Of course it is not literally a police state, but the government here is not held at bay with anything like a constitution and they love to make masses of regulations, so the place can definitely be described so metaphorically. If you were previously in any doubt about this, check out recent plans to mandatorily censor all internet traffic. Nasty politicians (Australia has plenty of those, and they seem to have the tightest asses of all) want to make it illegal even to link to a site forbidden by the government. The whole mess reads like a chapter in a history book covering cinema censorship in the 20th century. Sadly it is the 21st century, except in close proximity to politicians... a localised time-warp.

At any rate, I am prompted to write about this because in buying my prepaid dongle, I had to provide an Australian address and positive ID, even though the form has a slot for "country" and I was paying in cash. I gave the poor sales girl a hard time, she was so embarrassed. She could not quite bring herself to say "make up an address", but she got close, suggesting I pick a friend or relative's address. Why do they want this data, one wonders?

If Australians think this is nasty, it beats living in once-merry old England. The last issue of Spectrum reports that the British government is going ahead with the "Intercept Modernisation Program" that will require all ISPs to log all user's traffic and its source and destination! Spectrum reflects that the extent of the government's proposed invasion would make the Stasi envious.

Fear, of course, is the motive, terrorism is what the fearful latch onto most commonly, and the internet is the newest, scariest, least regulated place where money is flowing and thought concentrating. Americans probably have more to fear, but they do not seem to be screwing their people nearly so much in either the financial or censorship categories. Why? British law is predicated on the basis that people are assets of the crown, and the rules are designed to get the best value out of you on the monarch's behalf. In America the basis is a constitution written by a laudable group of wise men who wanted the people to be served by the government, instead of the other way around. I honestly believe that this is what permits the most inequity and stupidity in Australia and New Zealand (and Britain).

Considering the pros and cons of places such as Australia and New Zealand, I accept that there is an inevitable impact of lower population density. There will be higher costs associated with the inherently lower-effort lifestyle. There is a price to be paid for social structures like a national health system. There is often inadequate service when people take the responsibility of their jobs all too lightly. Sometimes I don't like these, but I figure I can live with them.

What I am working around to saying is that it is about time Australia and New Zealand adopted constitutions. I could not see the republican's arguments back in the 1980s or whenever the suggestions first arose. I don't think I have ever heard it stated as I now think of it. Franco Corsaro once told me that it was an opportunity to rewrite the law, but I did not hear why he felt it needed rewriting. I'd love to have that discussion now.

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