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  1. #1
    coljac's Avatar coljac is offline MacTalk Podcaster

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    Exclamation Coming Soon - Censored Internet

    <img src="http://heyinternet.com/imgdump/stephen_conroy_popup-20080818-131517.jpg" align="left" hspace="20">The ALP went to the polls last year with a plan to keep Australian children safe online. That plan was to create a "clean", child-safe Internet feed that would be provided, by law, to every home and school in the country. Since then, the ALP has won Government and allocated over a hundred million dollars to its cyber-safety agenda. So just what do we have in store for us?

    At first blush, it might not seem like such a bad idea to filter out the sex and violence so that parents can let their young children use the Internet without worrying that they'll come across something that might distress them. (I wouldn't want my children watching Rick Astley dance without an adult present to explain.) A quick look at the Government's plan, though, is very alarming. Not only does it show a profound lack of understanding about how the Internet really works, it's a bad policy for the children, too.

    What they plan is to mandate, by law, that all Australian ISPs run real-time content filtering software on all connections to Australian homes and schools. Although the filter is to be mandatory, there have been indications that the it will be opt-out, but this is by no means guaranteed. The filter would block access to a list of URLs maintained by the ACMA, and would analyse page requests in real-time looking for content "inappropriate" for children. The ACMA recently conducted a trial of five brands of filtering software, which was hailed by the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, as a success and a model for moving forward with the plan to apply it to the country's entire Internet.

    You can probably come up with a few objections to this idea off the top of your head, but let's start with the obvious ones. Can this be done technically? The ISPs would say, "no," certainly not without an enormous impact on the speed and cost of consumers' Internet access. In the Government's own trial, the filters tested slowed down network speeds by an average of about a third, even on the small test network. Even with the ACMA's own test data, the filters blocked about 3% of harmless web pages, and failed to block as much as 15% of "unsafe" content. The expense to the ISP to install and maintain filters for their entire customer base would be enormous, and no customer would put up with the slow and unreliable service they would be getting for higher prices than they currently pay.

    <img src="http://heyinternet.com/imgdump/skitched-20080818-131404.jpg" align="right" hspace="20">Even if the software could be realistically installed and maintained, is this something we want our Government doing? If you're thinking about the Great Firewall of China, you're not the only one. Who would decide what sites went on the blacklist? Which Government agency would determine which keywords should get a page blocked? How would one go about getting a page unblocked? Just who gets to be the arbiter of what's "appropriate" for a child to see? You don't have to be exactly paranoid to have a few qualms about the Government having this level of control over what you can see in your home. After all, it's not hard to imagine the list expanding under pressure from various lobby groups. Is a website about anorexia appropriate for children?

    Indeed, given the diversity in the Australian population, one has to wonder about this "one size fits all" policy. Pick any two family homes in Australia and there will be differences in what's considered "appropriate" from one to the next. What if my kid is 15 and yours is 9 years old? What if your family is Christian and mine are unbelievers? Each parent will have a different opinion on what their own child should be allowed to see. Very of few of these parents would want to abrogate this responsibility to a government minister or bureaucrat. Most of those parents are Internet users themselves, too, and would want unrestricted access. But this is only possible with a PC-based filter - an ISP-level filter takes no account of the different needs of users within the same household.

    <img src="http://heyinternet.com/imgdump/thinkids-20080818-131336.jpg" align="left" hspace="20">Setting all these other objections aside, could this still be a good policy for the children? It's hard to see how. Even the Government's own research on online risks doesn't support the idea of Internet filtering. Children do face real risks online, such as viruses, identity theft, cyber-bullying and even chat-room predators. A filter would do exactly nothing to mitigate these risks. So-called "content risks", that is, accidental exposure to inappropriate content online, are much less significant than these other factors, and there is little in the way of hard evidence to suggest that kids are being bombarded with such material or that it is doing them any harm. In other words, the clean-feed filter is an expensive solution without a problem. There are better ways to spend a hundred million dollars if you want to safeguard the welfare of children.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it's abundantly clear than Australians don't want the filter. Only a third of households with Internet connections have school-age children in them, and of these houses, only a third have filters installed for their children. Polling data shows that the rest simply don't think the benefits of filtering are worth the costs. Only 13% of Internet users polled in Whirlpool's broadband survey thought the policy was a good idea. If you're one of the majority who strongly object, go to nocleanfeed.com to see how you can help lobby your representatives to abandon this unworkable plan.

    For more information, please see the no clean feed site. For some good blogging on the subject, see Somebody Think Of The Children .


  2. #2
    decryption's Avatar decryption is offline Kenny Powders

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    Fantastic article - I asked Colin to write this as a lot of people aren't aware exactly what the government has planned here. It would be a national shame if something like this actually got to wide implementation. Hopefully reading it has woken some people up to what is going on with this filter and that it actually is happening unless we do something about it.

  3. #3

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    LOL at the Rick Astley comment but great article otherwise.

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    Eek. I had no idea.

    They should just give out 'net-nanny' style software to people who want it for free. If you don't want it, you don't get it.

  5. #5

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    They did hand out software for free. But this is a new government now, and they need something to tout.

    Does anyone know if your speed will be reduced if you opt-out? Or will they still trawl through your connection, just not block anything? I can't see them being able to turn this off that easily.

  6. #6
    jamferma is offline Mac.... The Future

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    i remember reading about this a while ago and i recall that a 12 year old broke through the filter. thats gov for ya

  7. #7
    coljac's Avatar coljac is offline MacTalk Podcaster

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    The last government made free PC-based filters available via the NetAlert program. However, so few people wanted them, that it was costing the taxpayer about $16,000 per installed filter!

    Rather than deciding that filtering was a waste of time, they've instead decided to just filter the whole bloody Internet instead. That's what passes for logic in politics some days.

  8. #8

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    So this is definitely going ahead now? I remember when they were talking about this a while back.

    Let's not let it happen.

    Great article by the way

    Quote Originally Posted by ZacG View Post
    Does anyone know if your speed will be reduced if you opt-out? Or will they still trawl through your connection, just not block anything? I can't see them being able to turn this off that easily.
    I want to know this, too.

  9. #9
    bartron's Avatar bartron is offline mmmm...cookies

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    I see a market for SSH servers set up in other countries.

    and I wonder if by 'internet' they mean 'www'. I'm sure they aren't going to go monitoring all the Usenet traffic (good lord, they'd all die of shock if they did)
    This opinion intentionally left blank.

  10. #10
    coljac's Avatar coljac is offline MacTalk Podcaster

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    Quote Originally Posted by ZacG View Post
    Does anyone know if your speed will be reduced if you opt-out? Or will they still trawl through your connection, just not block anything? I can't see them being able to turn this off that easily.
    The trial they performed did measure the network speed when filtering was turned off. One filter slowed things down by nearly a third even when not filtering! But as for how the ISPs would implement this, it's hard to say. There's such a big difference between routing network traffic and performing deep-packet inspection. It's possible that it would be too expensive to maintain two separate types of connection.

    One thing's for sure, if this goes ahead your internet access will not get faster or cheaper.

  11. #11
    matthewlesh's Avatar matthewlesh is offline It's all relative...

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    Noooooooo.. don't block the porn... anything but the porn..

    Does anyone know if this policy will include filtering of peer to peer activities? Also would a simple web proxy go right through it?

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by jamferma View Post
    i remember reading about this a while ago and i recall that a 12 year old broke through the filter. thats gov for ya
    Maybe you were thinking of this chap, a bit older than 12...

    http://thewoodverdict.blogspot.com/

  13. #13

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    boooo..this is not good at all.

    I have signed the petition and will email and send a letter to Mr Conroy, you all should do the same.
    Macbook Pro - 15" - C2D 2.33ghz - 2gig Ram

  14. #14
    coljac's Avatar coljac is offline MacTalk Podcaster

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    Quote Originally Posted by matthewlesh View Post
    Does anyone know if this policy will include filtering of peer to peer activities? Also would a simple web proxy go right through it?
    None of the proposed filter products can do anything but straight web traffic, so P2P, chat, etc are safe (which is really weakness of the scheme, though count your blessings).

    There's some debate about how HTTPS is handled - either it's not filtered at all, or the filter software would have to act as a "man in the middle" which would unleash a Pandora's box of security nightmares.

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    So if my speed went below the sold speed of my what my ISP sold me, what legal grounds do I have, we have?

    I can see why we all need Fibre to the home now, just so we can get the same speeds we enjoy now after being filtered.

  16. #16
    matthewk is offline You can't handle the truth!

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    Looks like I'm going to have to start contact labor MPs.
    White MacBook 2.2GHz 4GB RAM Leopard, White 3G iPhone 16GB

  17. #17
    matthewlesh's Avatar matthewlesh is offline It's all relative...

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    Quote Originally Posted by coljac View Post
    There's some debate about how HTTPS is handled - either it's not filtered at all, or the filter software would have to act as a "man in the middle" which would unleash a Pandora's box of security nightmares.
    So i guess that means web proxies won't work but if i go to https://www.pornsite.com then it will? [Assuming they've got a SSL installed].. interesting.

    Anyway i've sent an email to the minister who wants it to happen. If enough people do it he may just get annoyed and take some notice. Either that or nothing will happen.

  18. #18

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    Thin end of the wedge, but then, what do you expect from the Rudd government?
    I knew that as soon as they took over, many things would change, and not for the better.
    I know, my bias is showing !
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  19. #19
    morgan's Avatar morgan is offline De gustibus non est disputandum

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    This is communism. Parents if you don't like the idea of letting your children watch porn on the net, supervise them. If I should ever get sad and lonely in my old age and need to find solace in online porn, why do I need permission from the government to do that?

    This is exactly what the Chinese do, decide what citizens can and cant access on the internet.

    I am already sick of the puritan Mr Kevin 07; bring on the double dissolution.

  20. #20
    drewbles's Avatar drewbles is offline feed me coffee...

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    What the government fail to realise is the best form of filtering is parents. Parents should make sure kids are supervised when using the internet. Use parental locks or passwords on windows machines to prevent access to the entire system when they are not around.

    As a long time worker in the ISP world, I can clearly state this will fall on it's arse every which way from Sunday (or any other day you like).

    Kevin 07 = Filter 08?

    Screw that. Governments need to put responsibility back to the parents, not the providers.
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