Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Australia's Brand Spanking Clean Feed Internet Filter

A brand spanking new Internet filter is on the way. Senator Stephen Conroy's Clean Feed is another step closer. This follows the release of the ISP Filtering Live Pilot Report. Government decisions were announced the same day. Why bother to release the report at all?

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has announced:

1. Introduction of mandatory ISP-level filtering of Refused Classification (RC) –rated content.
2. A grants program to encourage the introduction of optional filtering by Internet Service Providers, to block additional content as requested by households.
3. An expansion of the cyber-safety outreach program run by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the Cyber-Safety Online Helpline – to improve education and awareness of online safety.

Media Release 15 Dec 2009Measures to improve safety of the internet for families
There are many questions that need to be addressed:

The Blacklist

How many sites will be blocked? The report suggests that 10s or 100s of thousands are possible. 1000 were tested. In what ways is the current blacklist ineffective? the blacklist will be passed to ISPs in an encrypted form to avoid the list falling into the wrong hands. After the recent East Anglia climategate hacking, it won’t be long before that hope is dashed.

Passing on the Cost

ISP will be required to bear the costs. This could well be a disincentive to competition as small providers may be discouraged.

Non-sexual Content

As well as sexual sites Refused Classification RC (sic) list will include websites that contain "detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act".

There goes boxing and several other Olympic sports. How will the list deal with different crimes in different States? If euthanasia is legalised in one State, would sites explaining how to use the laws be banned? Would sites arguing for a change in the law face censorship? Would links to “undesirable” constitute the grounds for black listing?

What about literature, which is full of detailed examples of crime, violence and drug use? Trainspotting? Fight Club? Crime and Punishment? Film and Television sites also pose a risk.


"The Government will also establish a grants program to encourage and assist ISPs to offer additional filtering services on a commercial basis for those families that wish to have a wider range of material filtered..."

However, "All six ISPs achieved 100 percent accuracy in blocking the ACMA blacklist. This was a requirement of the pilot. In blocking additional categories of content all six ISPs achieved 78 percent to 84 percent accuracy..." Only 22 percent got through. That’s encouraging.

The FAQ includes No.17. “Why does the Government consider demand exists for additional ISP-level filtering services?” The answer doesn’t mention demand just choice. The general public didn't use the free service and it has been discontinued. Why would they pay for an inaccurate service, especially one that may include over-blocking? But that's a sideshow, as filters for parents are already available on the market. You can already spy on your kids from work if you so desire. Big Father knows best!

Scope of Censorship/Protection

The RC system is not a filtering mechanism that will protect children from accidental or deliberate access to pornography, just the "illegal" stuff. Nor will it catch out child pornographers and paedophiles. Apparently, "Telstra found its filtering solution was not effective in the case of non-web based protocols such as instant messaging, peer-to-peer or chat rooms." ACMA will only list a very limited number of specific internet addresses (URLs).


According to the report, "A technically competent user could, if they wished, circumvent the filtering technology." Technical competence is widespread, including amongst the young. So why spend money on something that is easily circumvented.

Political Equations: In the Wink of an Eye

Kevin Rudd’s Labor government is unlikely to win many votes from this initiative. It’s uncertain if it will lose many in a climate change dominated election. What it faces is a major loss of goodwill from those who object to the filter's authoritarian potential. Imagine Tony Abbott or Kevin Andrews in charge of deciding what's appropriate. Don't mentioned RU486?

The good news is that the internet speeds should not be affected very much. It will be done in the wink of an eye, or as Telstra reported, a delay “equivalent to one seventieth of the blink of an eye”.

Kevin on Facebook: “The Rudd Government's approach to cyber-safety has been informed by the trial of internet filtering and extensive industry feedback about the most appropriate way to improve safety for families online.” What about community consultation? It’s the sort of action you would announce the week of COP15 in Copenhagen and ten days before Christmas. Most of those affected won’t read past the headline.

If the government’s aim is to protect children from inappropriate content, then this scheme won’t achieve that. If it wants to stop illegal material on the web, then it should be confined to criminal material of a sexual nature as proposed in the ALP’s policy in 2007. If it’s trying to increase its popularity amongst “families”, then it’s wasting time and money.

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trevbus said...

You say it is a bad idea but don't seem to think it is a big issue.

My main worry is not the effect on my ability to access info. What matters is the ability of the general populace to inform themselves freely and then vote and spend accordingly.

So there is this debate about whether it will or won't work, really depending on how motivated you are to evade it. A lot of people aren't very motivated and really just stumble upon information as opposed to seeking it out.

As the economy gets worse due to debt collapse and Peak Oil we will see more and more authoritarian trends (ie control freaks), so putting this power in the hands of Government is bad bad bad.

I don't see why Conroy has created this as an issue. No-one forced him to. No-one forced his state branch to preference Fielding in 2004 either. Hmmmm.

It doesn't add up, it's bad on principle, so it should be stopped now.

Unknown said...

I do think it's a very serious issue. Please check my other posts under the Internet Filtering category.

Alphonse Romano said...

The way that I see it is this (take it or leave it) : This will not work past what is already done and working. The ACMA blacklist has been operating for the last 9 years and so therefore there will be no change if they just stick with RC sites. However if that is the case, then there is no point in doing anything because these are already affected. Where the issue comes in is that these won't be added to outside of the already existing list and this is is where the major problems start.
The new list will be a hidden list, we won't know what is on it. This means that anything that the government doesn't agree with can be blocked. As been said by other people, sites informing people about safe injection of drugs has been added to the list. While I don't agree with the injection of illegal drugs, I can see why people who take them need to take them safely. This is stupid.
The other problem that I have with it, is that once it is in place, no opposition will call them out on it, partly because then the government will just call kiddie p**n on them and they will lose, and secondly, who doesn't want that power, especially in government, to be able to tell everyone what they are allowed to like ie. them.

Instead of this, what I would like to see is an optional filtering system; subsidise it if you want. This will do three things. The people who are worried about it can sleep easy knowing that they are fine. The police now have an updated list for alert systems - they can probably ignore anyone with the filtering system because they weren't interested in the first place. It means that they can save time searching through 20 million people and cut it down to say 10 million, halve costs and time. The third thing it will do is get both families and 'geeks' on side as the family friendly credentials are now in place and other people are being listened to.

Just my opinion, take it or leave it as you like.

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