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.There are many questions that need to be addressed:
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
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.
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.