Why The Internet Should Not Be Filtered In Australia!

I've decided to publish an essay that I've written for my year 12 Information Processing & Technology social and ethical writing assignment here on my website, because I think it's important for anyone who opposes internet filtering to build up a good set of facts so the debate can be fought strongly against the government's propaganda. The task was to write an argumentative essay which supports or refutes the following statement. “The Australian Government should pass legislation which requires all ISPs to filter illegal and inappropriate Internet content based on a secret Government blacklist in order to protect Australians from exposure to such content.” I have obviously written an essay which refutes the statement. This article will be a lot more formal than the rest of my website as it was a proper summative assignment which had to be written in a formal essay structure with a bibliography at the end. At the end of it I'm going to list one or two extra things that I found interesting but couldn't fit into the already over the word limit essay. So here's the essay I wrote.

Update 9th March 2010: I have received my mark back for this piece of writing and I got an A for Knowledge and an A+ for Research and Development. Very Happy

Every single day, millions of Australians use the internet for a wide variety of activities. These include education, social networking, business and entertainment. One of the strongest appeals of the internet is that anyone, anywhere can post almost anything they want on it without anyone approving or editing it. On the other hand, television, radio, newspapers, magazines and books are censored by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). In 2011, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, plans to have all Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) switch on a mandatory filter which will protect Australians blocking all illegal content as well as content which has been refused classification from being accessed. Stephen Conroy says it will just include the list of usual suspects such as child pornography, bestiality and depictions of other illegal activities. While this may seem an excellent idea at first, there are too many problems associated with it to make it feasible. Firstly the filter is technologically flawed and it will not do the job it was designed for. Secondly it would also adversely affect the speed of our internet and finally there is a strong level of subjectiveness in the classification process, which will block content beyond the scope of what is deemed to illegal.

If a Government is going to introduce any solution to a problem and spend taxpayers’ money on it, the system needs to work effectively and it must achieve the goal it is designed to accomplish. The Rudd Government’s internet filter will not work effectively. It will not achieve what is expected from it because it only focuses on one particular protocol on the internet, HTTP (normal website traffic). The filtering system used, is currently exploited by millions of school children everyday who bypass their state Government’s education department internet filter to access Miniclip and Facebook. An article on the Australian Government's Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s website even states that the filter will not work. In response to one of their FAQs, “Can’t these filters be readily circumvented? Will they filter non-web material such as peer to peer?” The reply states, “A technically competent user could circumvent filtering”. The Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) agrees with this statement and expands more on the issue by explaining that, “The proposed filter will only filter unencrypted web (HTTP) traffic. Not only will it be trivial to circumvent by those who want to, but it will not be able to stop the distribution of illegal child sexual abuse material on encrypted peer-to-peer networks, where the greatest majority such material is traded”. So while the Government in a round-about way is stating the filter will not be one hundred percent effective, the EFA states exactly how ineffective it will be by stating, “The list of URLs that will be filtered is only a tiny fraction of the material on the internet that may be considered harmful to children. A mandatory filter cannot address the bulk of inappropriate content”. It is known that approximately sixty percent of internet traffic is peer-to-peer and none of this will be blocked under the Government’s filter (Carlton 2008). Of the thirty percent left that is able to be filtered, only a small amount of content is able to be correctly filtered according to the EFA. The main objective of the filter is to provide parents with peace of mind that their children will be safe when browsing the web, but the evidence strongly pointing towards this being a fantasy. So as well as costing a lot of taxpayers’ money to do very little, the filter will also have other negative impacts on the internet, mainly in the area of speed.

Now that there is an understanding about how little the filter will actually achieve, it is time to look at what the filter will actually cost us in terms of economic value and speed of the internet. From the evidence above, it is very hard to understand why a Government would continue to pursue with a project that will cost $44.2 billion and achieve very little. Mark Newton, a senior employee of a major ISP in Australia discussed the issue of speed in an article on APCMag.com stating, “It's bad enough that the testing protocols only required testing to 12% of the NBN's intended speed, but Enex made it worse by ignoring the Technical Testing Framework and only running their tests up to 8 megabits per second, less than one twelfth of the NBN's intended speed. Appendix 1 in their report lays it all out in pictorial form, with graph after graph showing flatline performance at between 7 and 8 megabits per second, except for those ISPs who couldn't even deliver that much. So technically, none of the tested systems met the Government's requirement” (Newton 2009). The Government report by Enex (the company who completed the speed tests) also states the following, “Participant5 successfully blocked 35 out of 37 circumvention attempts resulting in the highest result in the pilot of 94.5 percent. It is noted during the pilot, however, that noticeable performance degradation was observed for the filtered service”. The Government’s own testing was flawed because they only tested it for 12% of the expected speed of the National Broadband Network when it is completed later this decade. The statistics also state that even in this flawed testing, there were performance issues at this low speed, which does not give much hope for real world speeds (Newton 2009). Lastly, the official report by Enex states that for the filter to work correctly, it will degrade performance, meaning that if the Government wish to implement a filter that does not impact performance like promised, they are going to get one that does not work properly, which makes one wonder why they would even attempt to implement a flawed system.

Lastly, when selling this filter to the public, Stephen Conroy and the government keep reassuring everyone that the filter will only be blocking illegal content including child pornography and child abuse. The truth is that the filter is not going to block only this nasty illegal content, but also content that is legal, but is refused classification. Most material that is refused classification (RC) is still legal to own and view in most states of Australia, it is only illegal to distribute or sell. RC material is legally classified as material that, “describes, depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not)” (ComLaw - Federal Register of Legislative Instruments 2005). The filter is essentially one big morality check. The definition of “reasonable adult” and “revolting or abhorrent phenomena” can never be properly defined, because they are subjective terms rather than clear cut black and white facts. If a mandatory filter that blocks content from being viewed is to be implemented, then having a subjective classification process is extremely dangerous. A conservative Christian government could spell the end to even more content than the current government’s filter plans to simply because it does not fit their morals. Horse trading (not the literal meaning) in parliament could also see special interests have content they want added to the list. An example of this may be Steve Fielding’s Family First party policy to block all porn on the internet. Making all of this worse is that the blacklist will not only be subjective but it will also be a secret blacklist, meaning that the ordinary Australian will not know what has been blocked. Any site that is blocked by mistake will likely have little recourse to get themselves unblocked either. The blocking of legitimate has already been evidenced in 2009, when the ACMA blacklist was leaked and there were, “online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist” (Moses 2009) on the list. Unfortunately it is illegal to link directly to the leaked blacklist here, so secondary newspaper reports is the only evidence available. This basically says that the Government is planning to block more than they say they will and will use the fact that the blacklist is secret to hide this fact from the general public.

In conclusion it can be strongly stated that the Government should not introduce mandatory filtering of illegal and inappropriate content to protect Australians. The filter itself can be easily circumvented by children even as young as 12 and also will not block nearly all the content it needs to block hence providing parents with a false sense of security. It will have significant speed issues for the internet if it is to filter as best it can (which is not very effectively). Lastly it will block more legitimate sites than Stephen Conroy wishes to disclose to the public, mainly the RC content that is not technically illegal. The Government needs to stop attempting to tell adults what is appropriate and not appropriate and what their morals should be. Some of the content may be distasteful to some people and perfectly palatable to others. The government should not draw the line on this unless the content is actually illegal. This filter is attempting to draw a moral line using the mandate that it is to protect children, when it will actually fail at that task. Democratic Australians who believe in the right to choose just cannot support the policy. To unwanted censoring of the internet, Australia says NO!



Australian Government's Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy 2009, ISP Filtering - Frequently Asked Questions | Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, viewed 7 February 2010, <http://www.dbcde.gov.au/funding_and_programs/cybersafety_plan/internet_service_provider_isp_filtering/isp_filtering_live_pilot/isp_filtering_-_frequently_asked_questions>.

ComLaw - Federal Register of Legislative Instruments 2005, ComLaw Legislative Instruments - Attachment - National Classification Code (May 2005), viewed 21 February 2010, <http://www.comlaw.gov.au/ComLaw/Legislation/LegislativeInstrument1.nsf/framelodgmentattachments/A4DD01BB110AD94DCA25700D002EF73E>.

Dziemborowicz, 2009, So What Exactly Is Prohibited Content? | newmatilda.com, viewed 9 February 2010, <http://newmatilda.com/2009/04/16/so-what-exactly-prohibited-content>.

Electronic Frontiers Australia, Learn - No Clean Feed - Stop Internet Censorship in Australia, viewed 7 February 2010, <http://nocleanfeed.com/learn.html>.

Enex Pty Ltd 2009, Internet Service Provider (ISP) Content Filtering Pilot Report, viewed 10 February 2010, <http://www.dbcde.gov.au/__data/assets/file/0006/123945/Enex_Testlab_report_into_ISP-level_filtering_-_Full_report_-_High_Res.zip>.

Moses, A 2009, Qld dentist furious over blacklist, viewed 10 February 2010, <http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/articles/2009/03/19/1237054974422.html>.

Newton, M 2009, Testing of Conroy's internet filter flawed: expert, viewed 10 February 2010, <http://apcmag.com/testing-of-conroys-internet-filter-was-flawed-expert-.htm>.

Stephen, C 2009, Internet list publication grossly irresponsible, viewed 9 February 2010, <http://www.minister.dbcde.gov.au/media/media_releases/2009/014>.

Triple M's The Spoonman (Brian Carlton) Radio Show 2008 (Transcript of the show on Hoyden About Town) 2008, Internet Censorship on MMM’s Spoonman Part One: with EFA’s Dale Clapperton, viewed 7 February 2010, <http://hoydenabouttown.com/20081114.2580/mmms-spoonman-and-the-efas-dale-clapperton-on-internet-censorship-partial-transcript/>.

Extra Information I Couldn't Put Into The Essay Which Is Relevant

Stephen Conroy has recently asked Google to filter Youtube for him because he knows the internet filter will slow down traffic on high volume websites including Youtube. APCMag said this: "In his latest comments, however, Conroy acknowledged that extending an ISP-level content filter to cover YouTube content would have performance implications – which explains why he is hoping Google will voluntarily do the job for him."

APCMag also published an article telling us how the internet web filter within parliament house has been malfunctioning and blocking out News Ltd. websites as well as some other unusual content:

“You may know that for those of us who live in Melbourne, it is relatively common that our trains do not seem to work in late January, once it gets over 32 degrees,” he added. “At that time the filter was blocking the train timetable website.” Scott Ryan added the rogue filter had also blocked a travel website, an article about Apple’s new iPad tablet device, and another “commonly used website across Melbourne”.

Scott Ryan said he had started a folder of “printouts” when a website had been blocked, adding the problem “does not fill us with a great deal of faith in a proposed national internet filter”.

So yea, some interesting extra tidbits to add to the argument about internet censorship in Australia. Any feedback about any of the essay or the information at the end is welcome, either via the E-Mail ATH Link at the left or via one of the social networks also on the left.