PGTS Humble Blog
Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering
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Internet Filters - A Success - For whom?
Chronogical Blog Entries:
Date: Sat, 30 Jan 2010 00:39:24 +1100
The Christmas holiday period is a welcome break for many. Despite the fact that we are supposedly living in a 24 x 7 economy, many people still like to have their weekends and to spend some time with their family during the holiday period. In Australia, the national broadcaster, the ABC, usually replaces regular programs with "Summer Season" editions. And quite a few mainstream journalists and commentators take a break. It is probably the ideal time for political parties to announce a policy initiative (apart from Melbourne Cup Day, which it seems is another favourite day for announcements).
Note: This was one of several posts about The Great Internet Rabbit-proof Fence -- Click here to return to the Index page.
The recent holiday season was no exception. In mid-December, when citizens were mostly pre-occupied with shopping and office parties, Senator Conroy announced that the government would proceed with plans to filter the Internet.
The ABC reported the event on their online news site with the headline Green Light For Internet Filter Plans. It was also covered (with some commentary) in most of the broadsheets. However it received very little coverage in mainstream TV and radio.
The quality of the debate had not improved greatly. Senator Conroy and his small band of supporters were still singing the same old song ... With the same tedious lyrics ... It is all about protecting our children, ridding the Internet of material that depicted sexual violence, child sex abuse, bestiality or details of how to use drugs or commit crimes.
According to media sources the minister said:
It is important that all Australians, particularly young children, are protected from this material ... The Government believes that parents want assistance to reduce the risk of children being exposed to such material ...
According to Senator Conroy the blacklist will be maintained by an independent body and banned material will be designated with an RC label (RC = Refused Classification).
Furthermore, he stated that the trial had been successful and that ...
Our pilot, and the experience of ISPs in many western democracies, shows that ISP level-filtering of a defined list of URLs can be delivered with 100 per cent accuracy ... It also demonstrated that it can be done with negligible impact on internet speed ...
Of course mid-December was the ideal time to announce this. Many journalists and commentators were planning their holiday break.
It's hard not to conclude that it was a tactical decision to make the announcement one week before the Christmas break. Why else would Senator Conroy sit on the results of the "trial" for so long if it was indeed such a stunning success.
From Senator Conroy's point of view, the trial may appear to be successful. The government can deploy the technology and the only ones who protest will be a few geeks. But the geeks can get around the filter anyway. The general populace are still pre-occupied with their mortgages and don't really understand what filtering is. Most of what the minister said during the interview made good political sense.
And it was almost completely false.
Well, to be fair ... The assertion that ISP level filtering is one hundred percent accurate ... Might be correct!
Yes dear reader, it could be true! In the same manner that the American military assured us that the new generation of smart bombs and drones were one hundred percent accurate ... Some of you might recall that during the course of the middle east conflicts, smart munitions took out innocent bystanders including wedding parties, families huddling in bunkers, school children and other civilians ... And indeed, those unfortunate people were killed and maimed with pin-point accuracy!
Because merely asserting that a tool is one hundred percent accurate is just spin ... Similar to how the military deployed weasel words like "friendly fire" and "collateral damage" ... Neither of which were eliminated by greater accuracy. It just meant that when one inflicted collateral damage it was done with greater precision!
And of course the government has already demonstrated this! If they could, they would silence critics and whistle-blowers (like wikileaks). And if websites dealing with medical or "controversial" issues are taken out ... Well, they are just collateral damage ... Quite acceptable really! Since it is all for the greater good.
But isn't it interesting dear reader, that the good Senator mentions ISPs in Western democracies and then with the very next breath utters the word "filtering"? Interesting, because as far as your humble blogger is aware, the only states that attempt to censor the Internet are China, Iran, North Korea, etc ... Hardly what one might refer to as your typical Western democracy.
But when Senator Conroy assures us so earnestly that filtering will have negligible impact on the speed of our Internet connections ... He really finds his stride. He is in the zone! He takes spin and deceit to new heights, ... Even for a minister for communications! He is following the advice that Goebbels offered to Hitler (and politicians everywhere) ... If you are going to tell a lie ... Then make it a Big Lie!. Since the majority of Australians have only a vague and rather fuzzy notion of how the Internet, let alone an Internet filter, actually works, this audacious fabrication probably won't be challenged.
And so dear reader, your blogger will give his humble assurance that a mandatory central filter (especially one setup at the behest of the government) will slow down the Internet! They didn't test it adequately ... The scale of the test was nowhere near the scale of a full deployment.
Well perhaps it is a trifle unfair to compare the minister for broadband and communications to Goebbels ... The Nazi minister of propaganda, were he alive today (and working for ACMA), would probably take it a step further and reassure the poor mushrooms at home that a filter will actually speed up the Internet ... But maybe your humble blogger shouldn't even suggest such a line of argument ... Senator Conroy is just as likely to clutch at it, in desperation.
All this unnecessary moral panic must raise some doubts about the alleged independence of the body that will be charged with the responsibility of maintaining the list.
It is not surprising therefore, that now that the new year is well underway, there has been a rising tide of protest. Mostly from geeks. But hopefully some of it will leak into the mainstream.
For example, some critics are citing the Euthanasia issue as an example of how the technology might be abused ... Because although it is true that Euthanasia is against the law. And therefore offenders can and will be prosecuted ... Muzzling the pro-euthanasia lobby is political censorship! It is more about preventing them from airing their views than it is about protecting our children.
Australians don't have to worry about some sinister future government misusing this technology. Our current government has already demonstrated that they would misuse it. And they will use it for political censorship as soon as they are able to. But the only ones affected will be those who don't know how to bypass the filters.
Last year, the Chinese government attempted to force computer manufacturers to install software on all computers. The software which was part of the Green Dam project was intended to filter material at the client (workstation) level. The Green Dam initiative was a second tier in the Internet censorship regime that China has attempted to enforce. Because large numbers of Chinese are now bypassing the filters and flouting the law, it was deemed necessary to install blocking software on each individual computer. The Chinese authorities said it was necessary to protect Chinese children from pornography! Does any of this sound familiar dear reader?
However, computer manufacturers everywhere refused to co-operate and in mid 2009, the Chinese government was forced into an embarrassing about-face. The green dam burst ... Sort of before it was even built!
Also, last year, your humble blogger spent many hours searching the Internet for paedophilia, and found none! However, your blogger did find pornography! Lots of it. Millions of pages of in fact. Your blogger was shocked to discover that pornography is a thriving online industry. There are so many of them! So very, very busy! ... And all of them at it! In so many positions and combinations ... And if you use Microsoft Bing, you can get to preview them in your browser window! ... <sarcasm> Gosh what a great reason to switch to Bing! </sarcasm>
It occurred to your humble blogger that there might be a lot of people making a lot of money out of all this activity!
No wonder the Chinese are upset! Perhaps that is why they tried to hack Google? Were they just trying to protect their kiddies?
It seems that Senator Conroy should 'fess up. Is he fair dinkum? Is really giving us a mandatory Internet filter to prevent paedophilia, child-abuse and rape? Or is he pandering to the moral minority who want to put a complete stop to pornography? ... Because that might be bit like trying to put the eggs back in their shells after they have been made into an omelette.
And if so, the woefully inadequate, half-baked, cobbled-together secret blacklist will have to be expanded considerably!
And if as your humble blogger suspects, all of those billions of naughty images are going to be refused classification ... Just who is going to be doing the classification? If this was going to be done by some independent governmental body, Some horrible thoughts occur to your humble blogger ... Like Just how closely does a "classifier" have to study an image in order to determine that it should be refused classification? How many classifiers (censors?) need to view them? And how many times do they have to view them?
Oh dear me! And where will we find the classifiers? With so much material to work with, we are going to need an army of classifiers (censors), all busily engaged in their duties in that classification department ...
Such thoughts almost make your blogger avert his humble eyes! ... And even to wonder .... Exactly what qualifications would one need to get a such a job?
Obviously they will have to be men (women?) of exceptionally strong moral fibre! Otherwise there might be some danger that the staff refusing the classification could be ... (God Forbid!) ... Corrupted by the process! (Gasp). Perhaps they could carry out their duties with their eyes closed?
Or will the good censors just put a blanket ban on everything that Google returns for the search word 'XXX'? Perhaps they should just ban Google? They could always confer with their colleagues in China, who have such a wealth of expertise in this area.
Alas dear reader, we may never know all the gory details ... Because it's still a big secret!