July 1, 2010

Australian Internet Filter (again)

Filed under: Rants,Technical — Tags: , , , — James Bunton @ 9:49 pm

I just realised that my previous post on this was 18 months ago. That’s depressing. Well, the situation has mostly stayed the same since then. It’s good that it has not become worse!
This post is a slightly edited version of an email I sent to my local representative about the matter.

See my previous post from November 2008. Oh, and if you plan to write your own letter to somebody about this matter, feel free to use my references, but please write your own content. I doubt it’s effective to spam busy politicians with duplicates that waste their time.

Firstly, I resent Stephen Conroy’s repeated assertion that those who oppose his plan to filter the internet are interested in “opting in to child porn” [1]. There have been many other occasions where Stephen Conroy has made such remarks. For example: “If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.” [2]. Nobody is trying to suggest that child pornography is acceptable, these kind of statements are inflammatory, and framing the debate in such a way is offensive and unhelpful.

It is also disturbing to see him outright mislead the public in so many respects, just one example was claiming that most ISPs support his filter plan [3], both iiNet[4] and Telstra[5] have been on record in the past as saying that the filter plan is a bad idea, so this was an outright falsehood that he definitely should have been aware of the facts before making such a statement. This is particularly irritating because he on so many occasions accuses others of misleading the public.

For the record, the rest of the industry is also against the plan, including Google, Yahoo, the US government [6] and even the “Save the Children” organisation [7]. There are good reasons why there is such widespread disapproval, which I will now cover.

The filter plan seems to have no concrete goals:

  • Clearly it cannot protect those children who are actually suffering child abuse. Hiding the problem does not make it go away.
  • Will it protect ordinary law abiding citizens browsing the internet at home? Considering the goal is to have a blacklist of less than 10,000 of the 1,000,000,000,000+ websites on the internet, I think it’s easy to see that it cannot possibly hope to make much of a difference to the chance of you coming across a website that may offend you. If Australians were interested in such things, they already have the option of signing up to an ISP like WebShield that offers this service at a small premium to anybody who can get ADSL through the Telstra wholesale network (that’s everybody who can get ADSL)
  • It will not stop people trading this content via email, peer 2 peer file sharing networks, instant messaging chat software and private encrypted websites, or using virtual private networks. This means it will be trivial for anybody who desires to bypass the filter. The report that Stephen Conroy published on the filter testing acknowledged this.

So the filter will not help abused children, protect casual internet users, or reduce criminal activity. What exactly will it do? Here are some negatives that it will do:

  • Add cost to ISPs, that will be passed on to all users
  • Become an extra point of failure that will make our internet connections are less reliable [8]
  • Noticeably slow down access to high traffic websites if it is used to block any pages on them
  • Provide a false sense of security to the Australian public, due to Stephen Conroy advertising that it will protect children online
  • Introduces a sinister secret censorship blacklist that is not subject to review by the Australian public

All these negatives, all this time and money spent on it, and no positives to show? All it allows is for the government to say “We tried!”. If your best try will have no positive effect and many negatives, then perhaps a better option would be to do nothing. After all, is there really a huge outcry in the public for the government to protect us from the big bad internet? For those who are interested in such protection, options do exist, such as WebShield at the ISP level and countless more downloadable packages.

Thanks for reading :)


Janet says:

A well argued point of view James. I’m convinced! You would have made a great lawyer :)

David says:

Good article mate completely behind your argument :)!

Jono says:

Nice post, though I wonder what we can do beyond letter writing. It will be interesting to see what role this policy plays in the election. Hopefully the media shows this side of the policy so the general public doesn’t blindly believe the media releases from Sen. Conroy.

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