Political packets

By stretch | Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 12:09 a.m. UTC

If you visit the main page of packetlife.net frequently you may have noticed something new in the top right corner.

no_clean_feed.gif

For those who have shielded themselves from all IT news over the last three months, Cleanfeed refers to a web content filtering system in place in the UK and and planned to be deployed in Australia soon. While the filter operated in the UK is supposedly limited to blocking only child pornography, the initiative put forth by Senator Stephen Conroy in Australia is much more ambitious.

Nocleanfeed.com lists the disturbing details of the plan known to date (references available at the link):

  • Filtering will be mandatory in all homes and schools across the country.
  • The clean feed will censor material that is "harmful and inappropriate" for children.
  • The filter will require a massive expansion of the ACMA's blacklist of prohibited content.
  • The Government wants to use dynamic filters of questionable accuracy that slow the internet down by an average of 30%.
  • The filtering will target legal as well as illegal material.
  • $44m has been budgeted for the implementation of this scheme so far.
  • The clean-feed for children will be opt-out, but a second filter will be mandatory for all Internet users.
  • A live pilot deployment is going ahead in the near future.

Setting aside the myriad of technical barriers to implementing such a system, the most obvious question is, "who decides what gets blocked?" When a corporation implements a web filter, it does so in accordance with corporate policy -- policy that is set by the owner of the network. But the Internet doesn't belong to any one entity, be it governmental or commercial, so such an authority simply doesn't exist at this scale. In a very Orwellian sense, this filtering initiative appears to want to create that authority out of thin air.

Naturally, the vast majority of Aussies oppose the content filter, as do the government's own studies. But why should that stop a conservative minority bent on "protecting the children?"

Some thoughts:

  1. I was able to bypass content filters at age 14, and it is not any more difficult today.
  2. It can't be all bad, right? Countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan have content filters in place, and everyone loves them.
  3. Child pornography, sadly, is not a new market on the Internet, and those participating have little trouble doing so even with the filtering technology in place at service providers today (see #1).
  4. $44 million would go a long way in expanding Australia's infrastructure so that its citizens might no longer be burdened by miserly transfer caps.

Nocleanfeed.com has some good suggestions for Australians wishing to voice their opinions. Good luck, mates!

About the Author

Jeremy Stretch is a network engineer living in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. He is known for his blog and cheat sheets here at Packet Life. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.

Posted in Opinion

Comments


HH (guest)
December 27, 2008 at 12:23 a.m. UTC

Cheers for putting this up mate, the report you reference was requested by the previous government so naturally the current government believe it is of no merit.

Kev747 and his pack of idiots deserve to be thrown out of government for their systematic pillaging of our country.

Can you believe they had the gaul to question the previous government on human rights and then go and put this forward?


Lama (guest)
December 27, 2008 at 1:55 a.m. UTC

You're right, here in AU there are a lot of IT people up in arms about this. I'm on the fence on the issue. The filter will have no impact on my day to day Internet access. If its privacy people are worried about (tracking users via filter logs) then wake up - you can already be traced quite easily.... tcpdump anyone?

Almost every school and company implements some kind of web filtering.... but nobody argues 'company IT policy has a negative impact on my rights as a human'. C'mon.

Almost every article I read against these filters seems to assume the filtering will be implemented on insufficient hardware, by incompetent IT admins, and block sites that are 'legal'. Seeing highly technical people 'dumb down' their arguments doesn't hold water, and it removes a lot creditability.

I'm reserving my judgement until I've used/tested the proposed 'solution'.

Lama


HH (guest)
December 27, 2008 at 2:46 a.m. UTC

Lama, the filter will have no impact on your day to day browsing asides from slowing it down and possibly classifiying sites as "inappropriate"

Corporations need tracking of their web usage as they are far more likely to be sued and need accountability, Conroy has even touted this system as filtering p2p, so hope you don't like downloading linux ISO using bittorrent?

This is a waste of my tax money on a system that by and large is not wanted, it won't protect anything and will just piss of us regular users.


Scott (guest)
December 27, 2008 at 9:15 a.m. UTC

@Lama

It will affect you. The infrastructure in place simply can't handle the burden of a filtering system as prescribed by the .AU government. So your connectivity will suffer.


Etherealmind (guest)
December 27, 2008 at 12:17 p.m. UTC

Linked from my page. This is simply a pro-Christian government (the PM and many Senior Ministers are all born again Christian nut jobs) trying to impose their beliefs onto other people.

Disgusting abuse of power and the church. There should be a referendum.

Greg Ferro


sford (guest)
December 27, 2008 at 10:01 p.m. UTC

Line-drawing is always difficult. I would suppose that web sites dedicated to breast cancer patients might be dubbed "appropriate", even though it might contain graphic photos of women's breasts. (And the comments section might contain people using coarser terminology and might even talk about sex drive related to self-image and hormonal therapies.) However, an AIDS site might be dubbed inappropriate because discussion might range to school children asking questions about safe sex, possibly even gay sex.

All this line-drawing is more easily done in smaller groups, like for example a family, or even a local school district, but when entire communities (never mind countries) try to legislate those kinds of lines, then you end up with tyrannies of various minorities who "know better" what is good for society than the actual members of the society.

Steve


HH (guest)
December 28, 2008 at 12:04 a.m. UTC

What concerns me as well as when I was listening to a radio interview with the health minister they were talking about childhood obesity and he said that they would look at filtering sites that promote unhealthy eating habits.

Rudd and his dudd government need to go, it's like they're trying to go for who is the biggest moron. Currently it's a three way tie between Kev, Swann and Conroy.


JDeer (guest)
December 28, 2008 at 3:39 p.m. UTC

I'm living in China now. The Great Firewall is a PITA, but not really effective. My hope that backlash from any kind of enforced censorship is improvements, and more mainstream use, of technologies not unlike I2P and Tor. (I have no hope for more tech-savvy or right-minded politicians) 1.5M DSL was just getting popular & widely available around Sydney, when I lived there 2~4 years ago. Telstra does a bang-up job of keeping the bandwidth restricted without any additional govt help.


Lama (guest)
December 28, 2008 at 8:45 p.m. UTC

HH, et al. Slowing things down, false positives, actually blocking p2p.... all guess work to date. I'll be signing up to any beta/early adopter program they have, so I'm in a better position to evaluate, then argue (if required), the facts. :)

Blocking of fatty eating sites - Now that is over the line. Bye bye maccas.com.au, kfc.com.au, and a billion other sites, heh. I can't see that happening. I will assume that sites will be reviewed by a technical panel, not by some suit in Canberra looking for votes.


HH (guest)
December 28, 2008 at 9:21 p.m. UTC

I don't really understand where this mentality of "i'll just bypass it" comes from either, whether it's encrypted or not it's going through their filters.


ealy (guest)
January 6, 2009 at 9:31 p.m. UTC

you must add IRAN in list of countries that use content filtering obviusly not only for filtering pornography but for sure the main reason is filtering political and news websites that are against current regime exactly looks like china & pakistan and other countries with undemocrat & dictator regimes


Rob (guest)
January 13, 2009 at 11:53 p.m. UTC

@HH - True, encrypted traffic does go through the filter, but since it is encrypted, the snoops/filters can't see into it to block it.

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