Labor’s plan to censor the internet: more details released

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The Green Room supports No Internet Censorship for Australia

UPDATE: Hit the ‘Read More’ link for iiNet’s information regarding internet filtering.

More details came through today about the federal Government’s plan to censor Australian internet connections. It has been announced that Telstra and Internode have both declined to join the “live” trial. iiNet has agreed to take part, but only to prove that the Government’s filter has serious flaws. Optus said they would be involved in a “scaled-down” approach to the clean feed.

Furthermore, in a move that the Greens have said is a sign that the Government is watering-down the filter, Senator Stephen Conroy announced that the trials wouldn’t affect actual customers of the selected internet service providers. He described it as a “closed network test” only.

The trials are scheduled to begin just before Christmas.

iiNet and Internet Filtering

The Australian government has stated that it believes that some form of mandatory internet filtering is desirable. It says that illegal material should be blocked from access.

Many others in the community have said that they disagree with this approach, either for technical reasons or on principle. The government has now said they will make a decision based on the results of a filtering trial with ISPs which should start on December 24, 2008.

iiNet has serious concerns about the usefulness of both filtering and also a trial. iiNet does not believe filtering is the solution to the government’s objective.

There are (at least) three general areas where shortcomings of the filtering proposal are obvious. These are also the reasons iiNet opposes the proposed filtering:

1. It doesn’t work.
Because people who distribute illegal material are motivated to find ways around attempts to stop it. This may be by peer to peer (P2P) distribution, chat rooms or simply by constantly changing the address (URL) at which the material is accessed.

Because people who seek this material will find ways to bypass the filtering. In 2006, the media carried reports of a teenager who openly and publicly ‘cracked’ the government’s attempt to block access to illegal material. The whirlpool site currently has a discussion thread running where several people are reporting they have already taken the challenge of bypassing the proposed filters and who are confident they will publish their success. This is now a game to those people who are skilled in bypassing restrictions, they do not seek the illegal material, just the opportunity to prove filtering can be bypassed.

Because it will not be accurate. Previous experience has shown filters will block material that should not be blocked and will allow material which it should not.

2. It will impact on the performance of internet networks.
We know this to be true, because an additional processing load will be placed on the ISP networks to look up blacklists and/or perform other filtering tasks.

Individuals will also see degraded performance, probably proportional to their internet bandwidth. We have yet to run the trial, but dial-up, satellite and low speed broadband customers will probably be the most affected.

3. The scope of the filtering will expand.
The government has said ‘The pilot will specifically test filtering against the ACMA black list of prohibited internet content, which is mostly child pornography, as well as filtering of other unwanted content’. iiNet believes ‘unwanted content’ can be interpreted to mean anything the government of the day wants. This is absolutely unacceptable. We have no objection to appropriate legal process, but will not accept that an anonymous government official will make a call on the basis of his or her own judgement.

The addition of additional web sites that someone in Canberra determines are ‘unwanted’ but which may not be illegal, is a high probability and must be avoided. Apart from arbitrarily categorising subjects and websites as ‘unwanted’, there is also the possibility that other forms of censorship or interception will emerge.

Trials run in Sweden illustrate how this could be a problem. After the commencement of the trial, Police requested additional (P2P) trackers be included in the trial. To their credit, the Swedish trial was abandoned after considerable controversy.

Those are the reasons iiNet believes the trial is pointless.

So why are we volunteering to take part?

  1. The Minister is not listening to the industry, believing instead that politically, this is a good thing to do. Whether it works or not. We will participate in the trial so that we can make sure the public, the media and the political players in this country are well informed and realise that it is bad policy.
  2. We will publish our results. We are a big ISP and we will have good statistics to prove this is an ill-advised path to pursue.
  3. We will continue to promote parental guidance of children’s access to the internet as the best, most effective way to protect children from ‘unwanted material’ which will be different from household to household. Governments should not take the role of parents.
  4. We hope that the outcome of this trial will be the final nail in the coffin of this misguided approach, which seems to re-surface with every new minister.
  5. We will continue to be a good corporate citizen, co-operating with law enforcement agencies, as required by law.
  6. We encourage all Australian citizens to contact their local member of parliament to express their concerns. They may also wish to contact the Minister’s office to ensure he is informed as to their point of view: Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy
    Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
    Deputy Leader Of The Government In The Senate,
    minister@dbcde.gov.au
    Tel: 03 9650 1188
    Fax: 03 9650 3251

[Sydney Morning Herald and iiNet]

– r.

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