The Australian Internet Filter – Facts. Thoughts. Action.

Unless you were living under a rock, you’d no doubt be aware by now that yesterday the Australian government re-affirmed its commitment to introducing a mandatory ISP-level internet filter. There’s been a lot said about it in the past 24 hours. Before giving my response, I want to outline the fact, then my opinion.

The Facts
Outlined on the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s blog, the Internet filter is one part of an overall cyber-safety plan for which the government has committed $125.8 Million over the next four years. The “Measures include increased funding towards cyber-safety education and awareness raising activities, content filtering and law enforcement”.

Yesterday (15/12/09), Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for DBCDE released to the public an overdue ISP Content Filtering Pilot Report from Enex Testlab. The purpose of this report was to test “a number of factors, including accuracy, effectiveness, impact on network speeds (performance), the relative ease of circumvention and the costs to implement.”

Current laws enable authorities to prosecute publishers of illegal content, but Australian law is powerless to impact servers located overseas. At most they can issue a takedown notice when the ISP / website owner can effectively choose if they comply with. The filter is designed to tackle that issue by blocking content that is ‘Refused classification’.

Conroy will present new legislation amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act early next year when the parliament resumes. If successful, the ISP-level filter would be implemented in 2011.

The idea has generated wide-spread large-scale public opposition.

My Thoughts
Let’s start at the start of the issue.. Where did the need for a filter come from ? Who’s demanding this ? And where’s the evidence. If there were parents out there screaming for a government solution to internet content safe filters, they were certainly slow to adopt the FREE opt-in security software offered by the previous government. The uptake was so poor, the program was scrapped. So why is Stephen Conroy so passionate to implement this? All he seems to get for his trouble is massive opposition and outright hate for the guy. This is an issue he’s putting his job on the line for, why, I have no idea.

I have serious questions about the report itself. Critical detail pertaining to which ISP was testing which product and what the users were actually doing when getting when the benchmarking on their connection was being performed. General browsing, gaming, torrenting, P2P, IM ? All of these things use the network differently and could potentially be impacted in different ways. Also in the Q&A, it mentions that all devices (mobile, console, etc) that connect to the internet will be filtered. My question is, why was only regular computer connections tested in the trial ?

Whilst supposed thousands of ‘real people’ were tested, we get the results of only a few at the end of the document. Of which results seem to fluctuate dramatically. For a credible conclusion to be reached for the aim of the report, the best filter would need to be selected, then tested against every possible scenario to ensure business and consumers aren’t impacted.

You may read the report lists the filter got 100% accuracy.. and if I provide a list of 10 sites to my router it’ll block 100% of those sites as well. This does not equal a successful filter and brings me to the inherit flaw of a blacklist. Content is created at such a rate that a blacklist will never keep up, there will never be enough manpower at ACMA to overcome this. Ever.

The result of the filters introduction will likely drive those exchanging illegal material underground (read: encrypted VPN/SSL). Despite the report being 97 pages long, it has no references to SSL. Encrypted traffic that won’t be filtered.

What can be done ?
The Press Release from Conroy yesterday clearly shows that no matter what the evidence or public opinion, he seems unequivocally persistent to get this filter implemented. There’s one single thing he can change that would end all of this opposition.. make it opt-in, rather than mandatory.

Whilst there’s some that subscribe to the every little bit helps camp, personally I think a lot of time and effort is being wasted doing things that won’t make a lick of difference. Changing your twitter avatar, unfollowing @kevinruddPM are just a couple of examples that have sprung up in the last couple of days. There’s thousands of websites out there that feature the No Clean Feed banner and what difference has that made ? I guess it has the chance to gain further publicity of the issue, but at this point it seems Conroy is set to proceed regardless of any amount of negative feedback on the issue.

Right now it seems the opposition hasn’t made up its mind on the issue, with Tony Abbott today saying he wasn’t across the issue to decide either way. Perhaps this is our opportunity to campaign to the opposition, help make up their minds and oppose the legislation.

Also don’t waste your time with online polls, in particular ones like SMH which results can easily be games by deleting your cookies and voting again. The results of these can’t be used as evidence in the case against the internet filter and simply serve for providing page visits to that site.

Resources

The official press release
Details of the overall Cyber-safety plan
Filtering Report
Frequently Asked Questions
Refused Classification Consultation paper

Google Australia’s response

The issue has now attracted worldwide attention, being picked up by ArsTechnica and the BBC. You can watch or contribute to the Twitter conversation by using the hash tag #nocleanfeed. The hash tag has been a trending topic for the best part of the last 24 hours.

  • ChrissoMerry

    I agree with what's been said here. Scrap this mandatory internet filtering or at least make it optional. But I know my family won't be having it, the internet's slow already, all the young members of the family have been educated and taught properly how to use the internet (and are very responsible!). If we can manage in a family of 6 with 3 under the age of 12 with very curious and mischievous habits, then all those concerned people out there should be able to as well.

  • http://www.jackcola.org/ Jack Cola

    If parents have a problem of what there child sees on the internet, simply disconnect the internet.
    You guys should watch todays episode of the 7pm project (Thur 17th Dec)- they hit the issue right on the head