Roddy's Ramblings

Thoughts and tales; some of them may even be true.

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Location: Australia

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Really? Happening here? Couldn't possibly...

Sometimes, something happens that seems so bizarre that you believe that it cannot possible happen. Not here. But it is happening and it is happening here.

The Australian government is applying a mandatory filter to censor the internet. The same thing that China, Iran, North Korea and no-one else does. The very thing that our Australian Prime Minister asked China not to do during the Olympics. No-one is allowed to know what our government has deemed 'unwanted'; which is the latest term being used for blacklisted information.

It was a background thing at the time of the election that most people who knew anything about how the internet works just snorted at and ignored it as unworkable; the policy was something you could opt-out of, it was there purely to protect the children. Thank god someone is thinking of the children. Then about a month ago an employee at an ISP talked about the second filter that people who opted out the first one would go onto. The Australian government actually tried to have this ISP employee silenced by hassling his employer. Something you might expect of Putin's government or the Bush administraion, but not a newly elected Australian one.

Technology web sites and the technology sections in the media all ran the story, but not the mainstream media. No front page of The Age or the Herald Sun here in Victoria. The Courier Mail is Brisbane recently ran with it. The thing that bothers me the most is the tone of the articles, which always talk about the illegal material that the filter will be restricting. This filter can't be used on P2P or secure links – 60% of all the internet traffic in the world is from P2P traffic. So the only people being restricted by the filter will be any paedophile visiting or a terrorist going to If an illegal act is being performed using the internet, I doubt that it is being done (for very long) by someone using an unsecured web link.

The thing about the illegality aspect is anyone can use Google to avoid website blacklisting; if you translate a page from English-to-English then the pages you are looking at are no longer linked against their original address, but against Google; which is an unlikely web page to be blacklisted. You could also create a secure link to a proxy address in any other country (with the obvious exceptions of China, Iran, North Korea or Australia) and browse the web through that – the traffic coming to your PC will be encrypted on its final leg back to your PC from any old innocuous address. There are so many unsecured PCs in the world thanks to Microsoft Windows, the list of addresses you could look up and utilise is practically limitless.

So it's a waste of time if you want to stop anyone from accessing illegal material.

An example that the government have used repeatedly is Pro-Anorexia web sites. How will an automatic scan of a web page be able to determine if a web site if Pro-Anorexia or information about Anorexia? Especially when there may be links to a Pro-site within an Anti-site for direct examples of misinformation. Welcome to the world of false hits. Every piece of web filtering software has something called a false hit, it is where a site is blacklisted when it shouldn't have been; its an unavoidable fact that comes with the territory. The example the government keeps using is as likely to cause families faced with this problem to have no access to any assisting information or help groups.

The latest number of websites the government has deemed 'unwanted' is 10,000. We will not be told what the websites are, the target of the filtering or any aspect of the websites being banned. This list is secret within a department of the government that will decide what we can and cannot see. A department that is influenced by the Family First Senator, Steve Fielding. A veritable luddite who wants anything on the world wide web that has not been specifically given a rating by the Australian OFLC to be listed as 'unwanted'. This is a representative of a political party that has publicly stated their stand against homosexuality. If you want to spend half-an-hour shaking your head in disbelief, then check out their website. Then think about the future of the internet in Australia where an easy option exists for blacklisting any information with knee-jerk policies.

Its also worth mentioning that the filtering software that was trialled slowed down the internet connection between 30% to 75% (or 87% depending on the articles you read). That means at best, your internet connection will be a third slower.

The offshoot that hasn't been discussed yet is the measures to be taken against anyone who bypasses the government's internet filter. One has to go with the other. A mandatory internet filter cannot be introduced without a deterrent to stop people bypassing it. So is every geek and 12 year old who has learned how to get around their firewall and filter at school going to be looking at a life as a criminal?


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