Today there is an article in the Age entitled Government goes to war with Google over net censorship, which I felt obliged to respond to (search for "Nicky"). This article was based on a radio debate on ABC National last night which I also tuned into.
For those that aren't up to speed, Senator Conroy and the Labor Party are planning to introduce Internet censorship via a mandatory ISP filter. In laymen's terms, this is supposed to block undesirable websites, to protect children. I'm a parent so I know that most parents' first response to this would be "sounds great!". Right?!
Wrong. Problem is, it won't do what he's claiming it will do, and anybody with any technical know-how at all is telling them so. However, the Government is forging ahead with plans to spend over $40 million dollars of taxpayer dollars to implement something that is technically infeasible!
Here are some facts about the filter:
- Senator Conroy claimed last night that the filter will only block 355 websites. However, the blacklist that the filter is based on has already been leaked on the Internet, and it currently contains well over 10,000 sites.
- The filter is based on Refused Classification (RC) material. RC material is NOT illegal - it is legal to possess and view (although not to buy or sell).
- Any of those blocked websites could change their name or hosting provider at any time, and they would no longer be blocked.
- The filter will not do anything to stop peer-to-peer traffic, or email, or FTP, or Instant Messaging, or IRC chat rooms, or in fact any other part of the Internet except for a miniscule portion of the World Wide Web.
- It is simple in the extreme to get around this filter, via the use of "anonymous proxy servers" - 3 words which my 6yo daughter would already be capable of typing into Google. (I've seen 10yo's use computers who know waaay more than their parents - think they won't see this as a challenge worth figuring out?!)
Here are some facts about Australia, our Government and censorship:
- This filter will allow the Government to censor the content that Australians see. (Just the words "Government" and "censor" in the same sentence sends chills down my spine).
- The blacklist is secret, so anything could be added by any future government on a whim and we would never be told.
- Several "false positives" have already occurred that resulted in some websites being added to the blacklist, that shouldn't have been there. If it's YOUR small business website on the blacklist one day, you won't know and you probably won't be able to get it off there easily (although you could just change your business name!).
- Australia has recently been placed on a global "Internet Villains" watchlist which includes South Korea and Russia, and which is only one level below the "Enemies of the Internet" list containing China, Iran, North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Yesterday, it was reported that the US Government questioned the Rudd government's plan to introduce an internet filter, saying it runs contrary to the US's foreign policy of encouraging an open internet to spread economic growth and global security. The world is watching us, and not in a positive way.
- Australia is already a long way away from the rest of the world and the people are very spread out, so our Internet access is generally slower and more expensive than lots of other places in the world, purely due to infrastructure. Forcing ISPs to filter every single website, which is what they'll have to do to identify these 355/10,000 sites, is undoubtedly going to slow things down even more.
Lastly, here are some of my views as a parent:
- This filter will create a false sense of security for many parents, because the Government is doing it and they trust the Government to do the right thing. But to put this into context - this is like sending your 8yo out into the city streets alone at night because the Government has hired one policeman.
- I don't let my children watch any TV show they like. I don't let them wander into newsagents or bookshops and read whatever they like. And I don't let them go to the grocery store and buy whatever food they like. Similarly, it would be irresponsible of me to allow them to use an Internet-connected computer to do whatever they liked, unsupervised. But I don't need the Government's help with that, any more than I need it to stop them watching TV.
- PC-based filter programs and parental controls have been available for years. The last government released a free PC-based program (which I can't find online any more but will post if I do find it), and Net Nanny has been available for almost 10 years. The new Windows 7, Ipods & Itouches all come with the ability to turn parental controls on, and it's possible to enable controls on Google searches too. Just type "parental controls" into any search engine and you'll find thousands and thousands of references. These are all far cheaper than the proposed filter, and they don't infringe on anybody's civil rights. However - none of these things will be 100% successful if you have a determined and unsupervised child.
To finish, here is one of my favourite quotes with regard to censorship:
The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion. ~Henry Steele Commager
Until next time,
For more information please visit:
Electronic Frontiers Australia
EFA's OpenInternet campaign
The Punch's Top Ten Internet Filter Lies