Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Great Internet Firewall

I don't normally indulge in serious analytical discourse here on the blog [no, that's saved for warm nights with friends on the porch] prefering instead to offer snide, well timed, witticisms of no real value beyond entertainment. The topic of the Rudd government's proposed internet filter and more importantly, the discussion in the public fora surrounding the proposal, is so far from the mark, and so loaded with misleading ideologically driven misinformation [which is likely nothing more than ignorance masquerading as authority] that I felt the strong urge to contribute my tiny voice to the fray. Hopefully raising the level of debate at least a little bit.

Lets talk first about the main actors in this cascade failure of policy. The man at the front of the plan would be Ye old' K-Rudd. As much as I'd love to pause for a moment, and take stock of all the wonderful things that Mr. Rudd's government has done thus far since taking the scepter from Johnny Howard [which I was rather chuffed with at the time] that will have to wait for another blog post. Suffice to say that Kevin has had a stint at the helm of a government so obsessed with using the spin mechanisms of the media to make it look like they're achieving something that they actually forgot to achieve anything.

Lets not forget the other melodious weasel in this charade of authority though, Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digial Economy Stephen Conroy. This is a man who follows in the fine example of so many in his position before him of being an almost farcically ignorant person at his job, the crucial difference being though, never before has his ministerial portfolio been so important. If our nation is to come even close to moving onto a post-industrial society, his job is at the forefront of that change. There are certain aspects of governance that require a person must have more knowledge than how to simply be a politician. We tend to expect the finance ministers, for example, have a bloody good working knowledge of economics. Why then, do we entrust the communication portfolio to people you just know would be calling someone else up about how to program their new DVR.

That's not to suggest that Conroy is merely inept. Oh my, no. This is the man who just recently had a lovely ski holiday with Kerry Stokes before handing the networks back a cool $250M [Thats a quarter of a billion dollars in lost government revenue, just so we're crystal clear] in decreased license fees... it's not often I will back a Liberal call for investigation, and even less likely if it comes from the mouth of Tony "Shit Eating Grin" Abbot, but seriously, double yew. tee. eff.

But let us forget, for just a moment, that these two stooges are bad at their jobs, and focus on why this plan is, for lack of a better phrase, wrong in every conceivable way. The implementation of this supposed firewall wouldn't be easy for a government with the resources and control of... oh, lets say China, let alone the laughable capacities at the disposal of the Australian Government. Lets have a look at some of the results of the 2008 filter trials by Australian Communication and Media Authority [ACMA], an institution I've spent my entire media degree being taught is laughably inept.

Of the six filtering systems tested, only one [the least accurate] had what was deemed an acceptable level of performance [speed sacrifice], only cutting access speeds by 2%. The rest of the filters decreased speed by 22-86% and one dropped the speed by a fifth when it wasn't even turned on. Significant problems were found with both under-blocking [letting sites on the blacklist through] and over-blocking [blocking the wrong sites]. Most crucially of all though, the tests only simulated a client trying to access sites through the filter one on one, however the governments plan is to have two tiered filtering, one blacklist for the kiddyporn and what not, which no one should be able to access, and then a second one that will protect all the fragile young minds in Australia, that adult users can [supposedly] opt out of. If that's all a bit confusing for you, think of it like this, decrease your internet speed by between 20 and 80 percent, then take that decreased speed, and decrease that by further 20-80 percent. All for the low low price of $81 million. Jeez, Bargain right?

And all of that was just for the average folk, Joe Q. Citizen and Jane R. Public.

Let me be very very clear here, people who want get around this filter, will be able to.

Very easily.

Let's take the example of child pornographers, this is not a group of people who indulge in their fantasies by googling "kiddie porn". There are very few web portals that will happily point you to a nice website offering you up a bunch of child porn for free, this is not how the system works, friends. The people who trade the overwhelming majority of this material do so through communication channels that have absolutely nothing to do with web sites. I'll explain what I mean.

The world wide web, and the internet, are two wholly different things. The WWW is websites, as we know them, hosted around the world, Yahoo, Google, Facebook etc. The internet however is much, much, bigger than that, it encompasses all communication across this global network of interconnected computers. Things like IRC, Usenet, FTP, the list goes on, I assure you. All of these systems allow for information transfer that can get around the proposed filter with minimal effort.

All of which any dodgy internet dude worth his salt will already be doing, to speak nothing of proxies, IP spoofing, TOR's and all the other hacking tools one can use to really get up to mischeif.

Then there is the list of sites itself a list which the government has openly admitted it has no intention of ever sharing with the public. Fortunately for us, and prophetically for this whole moronic scheme, the list was leaked, twice. I don't know how many of you looked at the list when I was originally leaked in '08, but I did, I also saved it [just request it in the comments if you want to have a look, I'll email it to you] and while just over half of them are child porn portals, that which is left is mostly pornographic, I don't really understand why we're blacklisting them. since when is being into bondage, an activity between consenting adults, worthy of censorship?, this one is less surprising I suppose, I mean we did refer to East Asia as "The Yellow Peril" on the governmental level in the post WW2 era, it's only been two generations after all, you have to give that shit time to settle, right?!? For those of you unfamiliar, Ishotmyself is a "porn" site in which Australian girls are given a digital camera to take home and told to take some sexy pics of themselves, in exchange for this they are given a modest sum [from what I recall it's a few hundred dollars]. Now I know this because some of my friends have done this. Hell, some of the people reading this have probably done this [I'd love for you to leave a comment if you have]. On what level is the government saying that this should be protected from the public? The photo's are taken by the girls themselves, or by someone they feel very comfortable with, and they have complete control over the artistic direction and composition of the shoots. Fuck people, this is head and shoulders healthier than the pornographic material available in the bloody service station.

and of course, the addition to the list that has stirred up more animosity for the government than any other, 4chan.

I wont bore you with the finer details of the site and it's ethos, but you know how the government's websites were attacked a little while ago? That was 4chan organised under the collective "Anonymous". These are the same people who helped make Scientology illegal in France. Make no mistake, the attacks on the government so have been a very simplistic and hastily put together affair by their usual standards. "Anonymous" is a group who's technical limitations and hacking capacities have no leash, and can never really be known. This is not romanticisation either, this is a group of decentralised individuals who have no leadership what so ever. Anyone can "join" or start a movement, be it an attack, protest, or MEME. If this filter plan gets implemented, it will be forever plagued by an unending stream of low level, essentially untraceable [because of how these measures work, each individual contributes to little, they cannot by persecuted or prosecuted] attacks and maladies, put forth by people who derive more pleasure from sticking a wrench in the works of institutions they deem unsatisfactory than they do from viewing the very material they are being ineffectively restricted from.

These sites are the really prominent ones that I know and have picked out of the first 10% of the list as I scanned it. Extrapolate from that and we're looking at many, many sites that are blocked because some conservative person doesn't like them, and we'll never know about it cause the list is secret.

Really? is that the kind of place we're going to be in?

A quick summation. If the filter is brought in, it will not stop the people who want to view material from viewing it, it will inconvenience the Australian internet population [all 17 million of us] when they are not trying to view restricted material, it is technically flawed and allows material through that it should not, and stops material it shouldn't, and finally [and by far most troublingly] the blacklisted material is to be kept secret, unavailable to the public, and in no way open for review at any time.

I beg you, I implore you, please please please do everything in your power to stop this happening. We are essentially instituting a kind of thought crime prevention filter, the fact that it wont work is a moot point, the fact that we as a public are willing to sit here and complacently take it is far too much for me to bear. This is worth protesting, there will be actions in every major capital city soon, you can find information out about them here

I will leave you on a hugely prostituted quote that nevertheless holds merit in this situation.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

It is only through the inaction of the intellectually active community, through it's self assured knowledge that surely surely that sort of thing could never happen here, could never happen to us. That we will lose more than we ever wanted to.

//Edit: If you've liked this, thought it helped you understand what was going on, or indeed anything else, please push it out to as many sources as you can, friends, news aggregators, other better known blogs, etc etc. This isn't about increasing my profile but about making people aware.

//Another Edit: A commenter on this left a very very cool link giving much more depth and scope to the issue than I have, if you still have questions, I would make your way here


  1. 'Suffice to say that Kevin has had a stint at the helm of a government so obsessed with using the spin mechanisms of the media to make it look like they're achieving something that they actually forgot to achieve anything.'

    Absolutely brilliant.

  2. Ben, your Mum referred me to your blog and I'm so pleased she did. I've been trying to get my head around this issue for a while and your blog was so succinct and informative. Now I'm really worried, but motivated. Thanks so much for spelling it out so clearly.
    Donna Fuller

  3. And, Ben, Donna Fuller then referred me to your essay, because she knows that I am extremely passionate about this issue of censorship in Australia. Speaking of conservative values, were you aware of the incursion of the right-wing evangelicals in this issue, namely the Australian Christian Lobby? You might be interested in giving this a quick scan - I hope that this is of interest to you. Keep up the good fight.

    Best wishes,

    Richard Henderson
    Agency.Asia Magazine

  4. I liked this and I understand a bit more. I only wish you had one of those "Share on Facebook" buttons.

    Now,I'll have to put in a bit more effort to get it on FB. :)

  5. Richard, thanks so much for the link, I put it in as an edit in my original post.

    Ash, situation rectified.

  6. Very well put. I've been out of the country for six months and am somewhat out of the loop, so tell me - are they planning to get this genius venture started before the next election?

    This feels like the biggest sell-out I can imagine. When I first went to a federal polling both, a woman offered me a Liberal how-to-vote card. I said "Thanks, but I'd rather inject human faeces into my own eyeball." Now, if Tony S.E.G. Abbot says his lot won't introduce this scheme, I might even have to consider preferencing them. Which effectively means voting for them in our bullshit two-option system. Which is a proposition that wracks me with ice-cold terror sweats.

  7. Thanks Ben I now understand fully what is going on and why it won't work, i have followed Richard Hendersons (Hendo) instructions to email Senator Conroy and join groups etc., but your blog has been a more interesting and descriptive read.
    Take Care
    Lisa Samaha

  8. Ben, I agree with everything you've stated here. And so does the wider community. I spend many hours a day listening to AM radio, and everytime they do a segemnt on this issue, whether that be a talk back show or a current affairs program, the prevailing opinion is mostly inline with everything you say.
    The digital domain experts make similar arguments and the public (at least the public that listens to discerning ABC radio news programs) tends to agree with what the experts say. This kind of alignment in opinion between the general public and the experts is something almost mystically absent in nearly every talk back topic raised on the radio.
    My point is, I don't think there is much need for debate about internet filters, as the absurdity of this issue is largely obvious.

    I believe that Kevin Rudd and his ministerial cabinet are smart men and women, and that, if these points are self-evident to us, then they are most surely apparent to them. (I find it hard to believe that Kevin Rudd would want to endorse anything that greatly infringed upon civil liberties, as an intelligent human being whose extensive education would surely have lead him to the same thoughts as you or I on such issues.)

    So, that leaves us with the question of why.
    I don't really know, being both largely naive about the nuances of politics and technology. But I would like to offer this thought because, well, it occurred to me and I thought it possible it might be worth some consideration.

    What if this whole internet filter concept is simply a ploy to garner the conservative mum and dad vote? and, in actual fact, they haven't any serious desire to implement the filter?
    For a few measly million they get to seem like they are tough on such horrendous issues as: child pornography, suicide and bomb making without having to actually do anything about these issues. A test of this technology has got to be cheaper than nation wide election campaigning.

    Just a thought. I really don't think the filter will ever be fully realised, the IP companies have also publically stated they won't be endorsing the filter, which offers me some peace of mind that our precious internet will not be censored. If you disagree with this premise then I am happy to be convinced otherwise, its no secret that I am desperate for meaning in this life and contravening a dire political motive could be just the ticket to such a sense of purpose. :)

    Chad Burton.

  9. I think you've hit the nail on the head, but only half as hard as necessary to drive it all the way in. I definitely agree that Kevin n' Co. are in it for the votes, and by and large it's working for them [at least in this instance] But I do also think, like so many pollies, he truly believes in the baloney he's spouting. I think he's got a moral compass that, were he not in the guh'ment, would mean he would be one of the people this maneuver won over. That's what's sticks in my craw.

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