censorship

Dec 9, 2008

Why Internet Filtering Won’t Work, is Wrong and Dangerous

"It won't work. There it is. Flat out. It won't work." Nor should it be allowed to work, because it's dangerous. So says a friend of mine, David Wright, with a strong interest in the

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

“It won’t work. There it is. Flat out. It won’t work.” Nor should it be allowed to work, because it’s dangerous.

So says a friend of mine, David Wright, with a strong interest in the internet filtering legislation presently being planned by Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy.

David Wright spends a lot of his time on the Internet. To him I owe my own tentative steps into the world of Internet publishing, as well as my use of social media (hello there fellow Twitterers) , and a great deal of my awareness of how future generations will consume and interact with media content, including journalism.

I think his arguments are worth reading in full. Wright has written in similar terms to Stephen Conroy.

I will let you know if he gets a reply.

David says:

“With more news outlets and people taking notice of the plan for Australia wide filtering of the internet I thought it would be helpful to hear from someone who both understands the goals of this plan and the technical and social problems it will face.

It is a very ambitious plan with a lot at stake. As such it is very complicated so I would like to address only the major points.

For a little background on myself I have been working with computers for over 10 years and am now employed as a systems administrator.

The technology behind the filter is actually very simple and straight forward. Everyone’s internet is run through an ISP (Internet Service Provider) that can control what you can and can’t do with your connection. What Senator Conroy is proposing is a massive list of known bad sites (called a Black list).

So if you try to access any web site your ISP will check it against the bad list. If its not on there, no problem. If it is the ISP will log the attempt and not provide the web page for you. That’s it. Very simple. So what are the problems? It turns out there are many.

For starters it slows everything down. It adds an overlay of complexity to the internet that will adversely affect our already pitifully slow internet. In world rankings of internet speed Australia is falling behind, even if listed by continents we fall third (http://www.speedtest.net/global.php). This is a major problem as almost every business needs high speed internet access.

The counter argument for this is the usual “Please think of the children” which leads into my next point.

It won’t work. There, flat out, it won’t work.

All it would have taken was for Senator Conroy to ask anyone who works in networking or systems and he would get the same answer.

Filtering is a difficult and dangerous game to play, I should know as I have been trying to set it up at my work. The system that is being proposed works on a black list. Who controls what’s on the list? How is it updated? There is no way it will catch everything, there is no way it will be updated fast enough.

But that’s not all; this system will only stop people from accessing the illegal content served through web pages.

It does not stop FTP, where one machine holds the files and sends them to individuals on request.

IT does not stop SMTP (good old email).

IT does not stop P2P (Sending directly from one machine to the other).

It does not stop IM (sending over instant messaging like AOL, ICQ, AIM, etc),

IT does not stop IRC (Inter-relay Chat). Think massive chat rooms which can be created for free instantly.

And that list doesn’t include all the options.

I still haven’t got to the worst part. Let’s say that for some reason the content has to be sourced from web pages. No problem. Set yourself up with a proxy. What that does is send your traffic to a legal webpage say, http://americanproxy.org/, and then that page grabs the illegal stuff and sends it to you.

Since it is coming from a legal site, the filtering won’t catch it. Simple. One Google search for “Free Proxy” will get hundreds of hits. All of about 30 seconds work to permanently get around this filter.

I say it again. Conroy’s plan will not work.

My final, most important point.

This is more important than the fact that it won’t work. More important than the fact that it will slow down the Internet, and make it harder for us to compete in a global marketplace.

It is free speech. This filtering comes in two tiers. One tier is compulsory; it will filter Child Pornography and other (undecided) illegal pages.

The second is an optional component for filtering pornography. An opt in, optional component is fine.

It’s the compulsory filter that is dangerous. In 2004 we passed a law saying we cannot discuss Euthanasia online. Will that be put on the compulsory filter?

What about drug information? Where does it stop? Who decides what is filtered out? The problem with me arguing this is that proponents of this will only stand up and shout “So your in favour of Child Pornography then?” or “Won’t someone think of the Children!?”

This an invalid argument. Instead of debating the issues people claim that if you are against this legislation you must want Child Porn.

The “Won’t someone think of the Children!?” argument is flawed. Since when did parents require the government to help them be parents? This is a condescending stance, tantamount to saying “We don’t think you are being good enough parents”. If parents took an active interest in what their child is doing then a lot of this would be unnecessary.

We should have complete and uncensored access to the internet. Anything illegal online is still illegal and should be handled by the law enforcement agencies.

Once censorship begins we have no real control over where it will go. We might start by filtering child pornography, then it will go to other pornography, then to pages the Government deems distasteful.

The freedoms we have in Australia at the moment are amazing and precious. They are worth fighting for.”

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