Internet Censorship: Part Two

Arep | 10 December 2008 | Comments off

by Reoh

How the Filters will affect the performance of the Internet
Regardless of which system is put into place it will have negative impact towards the level of service provided to Australian Citizens, which is in contrast with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s promises for a better broadband system. Even passively installed but not engaged a filtration system lengthens the network and reduces the overall performance (ACMA 2008, p40-41), even if the features were disabled at some stage they would have to be removed at further expense to resolve their interference. Degradation would increase if the Filtering service was enabled (ACMA 2008, p41). These performance characteristics are then influenced by the alternating pattern of traffic being transmitted, even if further technologies were developed to filter more traffic on the internet than the currently available commercial products they would then further degrade the performance while analysing which part of the filter to direct traffic to (ACMA, p27).

Issues resulting from compatibility with existing networks hardware/software or configuration were not addressedWhile the median level of performance degradation has improved since the 2005 trial (ACMA 2008, p48.), the reductions that are expected will still force ISP’s to upgrade their networks ahead of schedule (ACMA 2008, p48.); a further expense to attribute to the use of filters. A degradation of 25% would advance a four year schedule down to a three year upgrade to keep up with demand (ACMA 2008, p49.). This impact could be significantly reduced and its accuracy increased if the filtration system only blocked a small list of illegal websites and made no attempts to analyse and block further content beyond such a list (ACMA 2008, p58.). Such an alteration to the current proposal would result in a system that is actually similar to British Telecom’s Clean Feed, which is not a commercially available product, and does not attempt to block millions or even thousands of pages but only in the area of some 1,000-1,500 sites (EFA, 2008.). These differences between the UK’s Clean Feed and the Australian Government proposal invalidate the comparisons made by members of parliament such as Senator Stephen Conroy.

The ACMA further acknowledges that their tests were only a scaled down model of a typical ISP configuration and that the results do not guarantee that ISPs could successfully incorporate filtering system technologies on the large scale (ACMA 2008, p47). Issues resulting from compatibility with existing networks hardware/software or configuration were not addressed (ACMA 2008, p47). As the volume of data increases the processing power needed to sift through it grows proportionately, as does the expense to install, adapt, maintain, and update the technology. The tests initially proved much worse until more experienced technicians than those initially assigned by the commercial bodies representing the individual tenders were made available to further tailor their filtration systems for the test (ACMA 2008, p49); this indicates reliance upon the vendors which will result in continual maintenance and updates that may prove a recurring and costly marriage.

Ultimately these expenses being incurred by ISPs to install, maintain, and upgrade a Filtering system will be passed along to either the Australian Government or to their Customers. Australian Citizens are already paying far in excess of our international counterparts for broadband services which offer less in return; making us pay more for services we do not want is unacceptable.

What is to be blocked, and why it shouldn’t
The over-blocking of the ISP-Level filter pro-actively analysing and preventing connections may have improved from the previous 2005 trial; however a figure of 1-8% was still evident (ACMA 2008, p50). Given the size of the internet the products tested would result in an erroneous over-blocking that prevented access to some 300,000-2,400,000 WebPages; a figure that is growing exponentially each year. The owners and visitors of these sites may file legal proceedings against the Australian Government for illegitimately preventing access to the content.

While the blocking of illegal websites is socially responsible, the blocking of content which is not illegal and possibly even innocuous of nature is fascistWhile the blocking of illegal websites is socially responsible, the blocking of content which is not illegal and possibly even innocuous of nature is fascist (Merriam-Webster, 2008.); the Australian Government must not have the right to censor material that does not violate any laws. Even discussions on topics that may seem morally dubious (to some) but are not illegal should not be forbidden. In a modern, democratic and multi-cultural society I expect to be able to debate topics which are of significance; to research matters that are of relevance, I should be without concern that the materials I require are hidden so that I may accurately support my arguments and illumine the truth to those whose positions are based on ignorance. Furthermore I should have no concern that my activities may erroneously trip alarms and prompt monitoring or false arrests as one might expect from countries whose civil liberties rank among the world’s worst.

“The criteria that define what may be offensive or inappropriate differ among societies, socio-demographic groups and individuals. This means that commercial filter products of the type assessed in this trial cannot treat all content as falling into either a ‘good’ category or a ‘bad’ category, but must undertake more complex analysis in recognition of the multiple and diverse standards that define what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ content. Consequently, an individual piece of content may be identified as falling into more than one of a large number of categories.” (ACMA 2008, p58.)

A significantly broader range than merely illegal content was being tested by the ACMA despite the possibilities for the services to be tailored otherwise (ACMA 2008, p19). 27 Categories were tested which included content deemed inappropriate such as abortion, racism, sexuality, terrorism, and violence (ACMA 2008, p49). Topics being barred are relevant to our society and who we are as a culture. We cannot hide knowledge and expect racism, violence and terrorism to disappear from our lives. Topics such as abortion were, and perhaps euthanasia may have been on the list; these are important concepts to discuss the problems and merits of and this breaks no law. Perhaps most strikingly human sexuality was on the list. What help in the future for a person struggling with their sexual preference, or with friends and family who want to know more about how they can help their loved one adjust? I had thought as a culture we had moved beyond such bigotry and yet here it rears its ugly head once more as this Australian Clean Feed attempts to drag us back into an ignoble past. While some households may have children they wish to protect from such content many others do not, many ISPs already offer similar services and there are also software products which could service this for any household wishing to do so such as Net Alert which is freely available through a previous Australian Government initiative (Moses, A., 2008.).

Conclusion
I have attempted to bring knowledge to light the correct path that we should take as a society; in illustrating that Internet Censorship is a topic of heated importance. An analysis of the report and other sources has shown that the Australian Clean Feed is a misnomer which will not prove an effective barrier against illegal content. That it will degrade the performance of our internet services and result in a continual expense for an ineffective and easily out manoeuvred filtering system. Perhaps more fundamentally that it is an immoral act of censorship that has no place in a progressive modern society. Furthermore it has been proven that the claims touted by the proponents of Internet Censorship are not supported by the facts, and that there are already many available products and services to provide for those whose households choose to filter their own internet content.

Of the many Australian ISPs I contacted and requested information on whether they intended to take part in the optional live trial, only iiNet confirmed their intentions to do so. The majority refused to take part in the trial, while the others had remained as yet undecided. Michael Malone the managing director for iiNet said in an interview conducted by The Age in 2008:

“He would sign up to be involved in the ‘ridiculous’ trials… [The] main purpose was to provide the Government with “hard numbers” demonstrating “how stupid it is… They’re not listening to the experts, they’re not listening to the industry, [and] they’re not listening to consumers, so perhaps some hard numbers will actually help… This is the worst Communications Minister we’ve had in the 15 years since the [internet] industry has existed.” The Age, 2008

I would like to know why such a large sum of money is going to be spent on an endeavour which already has an implemented and optional alternative through the Net Alert initiative? By what right does the Australian Government declare legal websites inappropriate for our access? Why the Australian Government wishes to enforce child-like restrictions upon all Australian households in accordance with the moral beliefs that may not represent a multi-cultural society of varying socio-demographics? Why does the Australian Government persist in ignoring industry experts and its citizens alike who do not wish this to go ahead? Most of all I want to know what sort of an Australia do you want to live in; and what are you willing to do to make it happen?

Reference List
ACMA - Australian Communications and Media Authority (June, 2008.). Closed Environment Testing of ISP-Level Internet Content Filters. Available Online: http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets...ial-report.pdf (Accessed November 13th, 2008.)

Clayton, Richard., (June 2005). Failures in a Hybrid Content Blocking System. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Available [Online]: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rnc1/cleanfeed.pdf (Accessed November 14th, 2008.)

EFA - Electronic Frontiers Australia, (Mar 2008.). Labor’s Mandatory ISP Internet Blocking Plan. Available [Online] at: Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) Labor’s Mandatory ISP Internet Blocking Plan (Accesssed November 14th, 2008.)

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (Nov 2008.). Fascism. Available [Online] at: fascist - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (accessed Nov 22nd, 2008.)

Moses, Asher (Nov 2008.). Net Censorship plan Backlash. Available [Online] at: Net censorship plan backlash - BizTech - Technology - theage.com.au (accessed Nov 13th, 2008.)

YouTube (Nov 2008.). Senator Ludlam questions Minister Conroy. Available [Online] at: YouTube - Senator Ludlam questions Minister Conroy (accessed Nov 21st, 2008.)

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