“The worst thing about censorship is ——– and ———-“
Tomorrow is Australia Day. A day where we, for some reason, celebrate our European invasion of native land and subsequent “colonization”. Back then, Australia was a penal colony, designed to house prisoners from the overflowing gaols of England. Basic freedoms such as speech, movement and publication were not even thinkable back then.
Fast forward to today and, as a highly advanced commonwealth democracy, we still do not have enshrined basic human rights in any sort of constitution. They are only implied to be inherited from Britain.
Well, our rights are under threat; and very little noise seems to be made about this. In case you don’t know already, the current Australian government plans to introduce mandatory internet censorship for every Australian internet connection next year, despite massive outcry. A large amount of spin has been placed on the debate, which has degraded to the point of name-calling opponents supporters of extreme content. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, subtly sidestepped Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Governments who support content filtering such as China and Iran, citing the very same reason they do for his plans; that “Now, all societies recognize that free expression has its limits.”, which sounds similar to China telling internet companies they can operate with freedom “according to law“.
When it comes down to it, this filter is not about protecting children, or stopping the proliferation of extreme content, which arguably leads to messed up people. It is about quietly putting in place a system of regulatory controls for a media which has been totally unregulated for the past 20 or so years, finally adding it to the list of other regulated media such of print and digital media.
I’m sure everyone reading this has already heard the reasons as to why implementing such a filter, even in it’s current state, is a bad idea, but I will re-iterate it for those who have missed it, or for those who have not seen additional reasons.
- Filtering technology is nothing new and has been circumvented since it’s inception; we have a complicated system of routers in China and Iran and that can be easily circumvented using widely known technologies such as Psiphon, TOR, DNS Tunneling, Secure VPN’s over SSH and a vast array of open CGI and PHP Web Proxy Servers. The kind of people who would likely be engaging in the proliferation of extreme content are likely to have half-a-brain about the possibility of surveillance, and the implementation of such technology will likely be a signal to drive more of these people to use the technologies listed. In effect, this makes any effort to censor the internet a waste of a taxpayer funds.
- Filtering technology will likely slow down internet connections, as there is a high negative correlation between the number of false positives and time spent inspecting traffic. Bandwidth and internet latency is already sparse in Australia, and adding excess filtering overhead will likely cause bottlenecks in speed. This nullifies the advantages on spending money to construct a fibre-to-the-home National Broadband Network (NBN). Even filtering a list of URLs doesn’t scale well.
- The blacklist of content that is effectively blocked or “banned”, refused classification [RC] doesn’t just include widely condemned images of child abuse. It also includes politically motivated sites, such as sites supporting the construction weapons, euthanasia and even civil disobedience. While such sites are disruptive to society, there is no good reason we should pretend they don’t exist and hide them from society. People have the right to be aware of differing political opinions. Controversially to be found on the latest leaked blacklist was Wikileaks [No link provided], a civil accountability website for governments and large organizations.
- The blacklist of content is a national secret. This means that it is an offence to enquire as to whether a specific site is blocked, or why a site is blocked, or how a site is blocked. The process is completely opaque and sites may be added for any reason.
- Filtering technologies give a false sense of security to parents, or even people, who are concerned about their own safety or their children’s safety online. Filtering mechanisms will only censor extreme content, and not adult content. While it may help to prevent people from stumbling on to such websites online, it does nothing to address the wider issues of malware, compromise of personal privacy and secret details, cyber-bullying and more. The current spin is that such a filtering scheme is designed to protect people online. In reality, that is further from the truth.
- The scheme will allow additional funds and incentives to ISPs to further block content. Although the majority of ISPs oppose the filtering scheme, some dishonest ISPs may take the money as an incentive to filter additional sites as suggested by lobby groups such as various religious organizations and the Recording Industry. It is also the first step towards removing network-neutrality, by encouraging ISPs with potential conflicts of interests to utilize filtering to their advantage.
- Finally, the implementation of an infrastructure to support internet filtering is likely to stay beyond the term of the current Labor government as it is a useful tool for controlling public opinion. The maintenance of the blacklist will be left to an “external organization”, which will most likely be ACMA, which has been heavily influenced by the former lobby groups in the past. Such infrastructure is crucial to the implementation of ACTA, which mandates packet inspection to determine if copyright infringement of recording industry content has taken place. This infrastructure could also be use to block altogether P2P and BitTorrent file-sharing networks, which are used to legitimately distribute open source software. As governments change, the blacklist of content will likely grow to include more politically motivated sites and sites that oppose or hurt organisations with significant lobby groups. This is a dangerous precedent which must be avoided.
What you can do:
If you are an Australian, you will notice that Compiz is participating in the Great Australian Blackout. A small reminder will pop-up when you navigate to any of our sites for the first time to take action against the internet censorship. With that, I would say the following is a good course of action:
- Talk to people: A lot of people don’t read technology news because they think it is beyond them or it doesn’t concern them. Tell them about the implications of such a filter. They will surely be outraged; currently opinion polls show that 56% of the population ‘strongly disagree’ with the implementation of a filter with a further 26% ‘disagreeing’ while a small minority, 2% ‘strongly support’ it.
- Write to your MP and more importantly your Senator about your disagreement as a voter with the planned scheme. The EFA has provided a great template to writing to your MP. Some tips with this: Writing to Kevin Rudd or Stephen Conroy are going to be futile since a) they will likely already be receiving loads of email about this, and will not be able to personally consider your thoughts and b) Stephen Conroy is stonewalling and unlikely to change his position, and neither is Kevin Rudd going to speak out for the sake of public image. Instead, write to your local MP or Senator. I can tell you that they DO read your letters and you WILL remind them of their responsibility to represent their electorate. I received letters of intent of consideration to oppose the legislation from both my Senator and MP. Remember, any such legislation needs a clear majority to pass, and by convincing your MP and Senator to vote “nay” that is one less vote that Conroy will have.
- Sign the petition: If you haven’t already, sign the petition by the EFA which will be presented to the Senate if the bill passes the House of Representatives. The more signatures here, the better.
If you are not an Australian: then be aware. I can tell you that other countries, such as Canada, the UK and Germany are watching Australia very closely as to how difficult it would be to implement internet censorship. Make sure you make other people aware of our situation and it’s relevance to you. Remember, that no political issue is ever a local problem. If you feel strongly for us, then you can take action similar to the above, asides from writing to MP’s since they will likely not listen to you.
Remember as part of our national anthem, we declare, on Australia Day “for we are Young and Free”. Let us keep our land that way.
STOP MANDATORY INTERNET CENSORSHIP IN AUSTRALIA. SAY NO TO A “CLEAN FEED”
Additional: while not strictly related, if you are living in WA, make a stand against increased stop and search police powers. They represent a further dismantlement of your civil liberties.