This is not a WoW post.  However, I think it is a very important issue, and one which people should be aware of regardless of where they live.  If it happens here, a country which is considered to be fairly democratic, it could plausibly happen anywhere.  That’s not scare mongering either… just a logical assertion.

However, feel free to mark as ‘read’, as it is a bit of a political rant.  And it’s kinda long.  Sorry.

Three days ago, news broke that the Australian Government’s internet filter (dubbed ‘Clean Feed’) has been given the green light, and will be introduced in Parliament next year.  Clean Feed is a filter which will be implemented at ISP level to block inappropriate and illegal material.  The filter will be compulsory for all ISPs to implement, and I am sure it will also be part of the law that users can not attempt to bypass the filter through anonymous proxies.   The government, in all their wisdom, have determined that blocking this material will ‘protect our children’ and will be ‘in the best interests of all Australians’.  Such material will be blocked on the basis of its ‘classification’.  Anything which is marked ‘Refused Classification’ will be blocked.

Of course, there have been mixed reactions to the filter – while a vast majority of Australians are against the filter, some people have gone as far as accusing those who are against it of being ‘pro-child porn’ and other various things.  Extremists on the other side of the argument have said ‘This is just the beginning of extreme government censorship’.  I myself don’t really subscribe to either of those views, but I do have some serious problems with this legislation.

1.  Who determines what is acceptable to be filtered?

The initial media coverage said the filter would cut illegal internet content such as “child sex abuse, bestiality, sexual violence or detailed information about how to use drugs or commit crimes”.  Now, I have serious doubts as to whether a couple of those things are actually ‘illegal content’ – and I know that one of those is legislated on a State level in Australia, not a Federal one, but that’s a moot point.  Today, there were media reports that the test filter was catching a large amount of harmless Refused Classification material, such as gay porn and fetish material.  Attempting to block illegal material is noble, in a misguided sense, I guess.  Blocking material that goes against mainstream moral values?  Totally disgusting and inappropriate.  One ISP involved in the test run reported large amounts of customer complaints because the filter had mistakenly blocked redtube. 

2.  The testing process was inherently flawed.

9 ISP’s volunteered to test the content filter.  Of these, only one ISP is considered to be of significant size.  Many of the others are small ISPs with a very specific clientele (one of these ISPs reported that only 1% of their client base was willing to be a part of the trial.  That amounted to 15 people).  The feedback from the ISPs involved has been minimal – Optus, the only large ISP to participate, refused to comment to the media.  There is not enough information publicly available about the trial and its results.

3.  Australia does not want or need a further slow down of speeds.

The government claims that the filter will not reduce speeds or cause issues in any way.  Unfortunately, the government has shown a lack of understanding of how the internet works.  I could go on about this all day.  Or, if you are actually interested, you could go read this (fantastic interview with the leaders of Telstra, Internode and iiNet – the three largest ISPs in Australia). 

TL;DR version of the article?

  • “Filtering technology, he [Hackett, from Internode] says, is the "antithesis to the notion that we all want to go faster" on the internet. "This stuff will actually make things go slower,"
  • “It’s invasive meaning it is expensive [to implement], and invasive in the sense that installing it in our network is complicated and may in fact cause outages." – Hackett, Internode
  • “"If the stuff goes a bit wrong it will start blocking other content. The trouble is, the internet’s not just web browsers. Other applications that are using the internet may get mistaken for things that are pulling that content and might get blocked or messed with in strange ways." – Hackett, Internode
  • “The idea of having some sort of fairly loose regulations and saying to ISPs, look, you have the capacity to do X, Y or Z and we’d like you to do that is crazy," he says. "If we start doing things like cutting people off on the basis of doing file-sharing, for example, we could finish up breaking laws. We could certainly lend ourselves liable to being sued for wrongfully cutting people off." – Milne, Telstra Bigpond
  • “"If the Federal Government says we are going to stop certain sorts of objectionable content, what on earth is the definition of bad here?" asks Hackett. "Is it the Federal Government’s definition of bad?”
  • “"I do worry that this is the thin edge of the wedge," he said. "That the Government will come in with a small list of sites for the ISP to block, and that just includes the real stuff that everyone agrees on like child porn and bestiality. So we say, OK we are willing to comply with that. But it becomes an area then that can be used for so much more. So you might see the next step is an attempt to block out XXX sites or hate speech sites, and you think, OK maybe we can live with that [too].  But then after that it could be to block out competing political positions or to block out sites about religion or sexual orientation that the Government says is no longer suitable for children in Australia." – Malone, iiNet

Sure, I don’t want children being able to see inappropriate material.  However, we should not all be subjected to the government’s method of controlling this.  Legislated morality?  How is that going to help anyone?  Educate parents and children about the internet.  Encourage parents to supervise their children on the internet.  Spend the money developing a client side filter that a teenager isn’t going to bypass in a few seconds.  Don’t foist your flawed filter on all Australians.

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10 Responses to “On Filters and Censorship”
  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Branwyn, Saresa. Saresa said: New blog post: On Filters and Censorship http://www.destructivereach.com/2009/12/on-filters-and-censorship/ [...]

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  2. I thought parents should be responsible for keeping and eye on what their kids do.

    Leaving a kid free on the internet is like dumping him/her in a dodgy neighborhood to play while you go somewhere else.

    Internet should be unrestricted. Like a telephone line. If you wnat something blocked, YOU should be able to block it yourself (install netnanny or similar software) or be able to ask the ISP to do it for you.

    Again, parents are responsible for their children. Not the federal government.

    Just my 2p

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  3. @BoatsUK – Sounds like the Australian government didn’t have enough to do this year. This sort of legislation always gets through because it’s about “protecting our children”. Be it, pesky child porn or threat du jour, they are always out there lurking in the shadows. Only if we take away everyone’s given right, will we be safe. Little consideration given to the fact, that just like Saresa said, the teenager will get to what they want. You aren’t stopping anyone except those that are law abiding.

    Really sad.

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  4. I’m baffled at how such an abominably bad idea ever got approved. Politicians are garbage.
    .-= Shayzani´s last blog ..Icecrown heroics =-.

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  5. Illegal things … I can understand wanting blocked yet there’s a fine line between information ABOUT illegal stuff and sites actively engaging in it.

    And yeah, I agree that government imposed filters like this is a dangerous idea. The accountability should be on the parents/users.

    Blarg.
    .-= Syrana´s last blog ..The Gift That Keeps On Giving =-.

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  6. This is a repeat of the same discussion we had this year here in Germany. I think the legislature did not go into effect yet … :(
    .-= Yashima´s last blog ..LFG Impressions =-.

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  7. If it’s about ‘protecting the children’ and you’re not a child, you should be able to opt out of the filtering. After all, you don’t need protecting. But this doesn’t occur to power-grabbing politicians.

    Also, you have the right to break the law. The preventative method that the internet filter adopts amounts to punishing thoughtcrime, which is unacceptable.
    .-= pjharvey´s last blog ..On salvaging =-.

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  8. Mr SexyPants says:

    I am saddened by the lack of twatwaffle in this post. Did the Government censor you? :)

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  9. Indeed. The government stole my twatwaffle!

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  10. I can only describe this one way: epic fail.
    .-= shopshopshop´s last blog ..The Written Word (and Other Fantastic Creatures) =-.

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