Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas is here -- Internet filtering is around the corner!

Christmas is upon us (Christmas Eve already on this side of the dateline ... warm, overcast, perhaps a little muggy, with stores that were crowded by 7:30 in the am), and the Internet still works.

So, where's the Internet filtering what was supposed to be "in place before Christmas?"

According to statements made yesterday, it's being delayed till January. And unless I miss my guess, the Aussie government is (as usual) running around feverishly in Damage Control Mode.

PC Magazine's website said on Monday, "Australia's broadband ministry on Monday defended the country's upcoming Internet filtering pilot, and acknowledged that the plan could include P2P traffic like BitTorrent. It is understood that technology exists to filter peer-to-peer networks," according to an FAQ posted online. "If such technology is proposed as part of the pilot by an ISP it will be considered." http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2337430,00.asp

But by the time you and I have found the time to go look at the FAQ -- it seems to have been edited. There is no mention, none whatsoever, of the term "P2P."

Here's the FAQ, see for yourself, any reference to a futile attempt to filter torrents, P2P, is gone: http://www.dbcde.gov.au/communications_for_consumers/funding_programs__and__support/cyber-safety_plan/internet_service_provider_isp_filtering/isp_filtering_-_frequently_asked_questions#q18

Which leaves them (officially, at least) with The Blacklist. Now, Australia has been sorta-kinda filtered for a long, long time. I remember when the censorship system came in -- a lot of lame, tame, fairly innocuous websites vanished overnight, when they were taken down by their owners who feared coming to the attention of government, and ending up with a Federal Police record for publishing stuff that was unpopular with said government!

Here's PC Magazine again: "Australian ISPs are already subject to restrictions based upon the country's rating system for movies, computer games, publications, and other online content, [Broadband Minister Stephen] Conroy said. That system, dubbed the National Classification Scheme, allows the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to issue take-down notices to objectionable material. All the government is now seeking to do is to examine how technology can assist in filtering internationally-hosted content," Conroy wrote."

Urk. I mean, seriously. Did you catch the furore just a few weeks ago, when the UK's Internet Watch Foundation cut UK users adrift from being able to add to or edit Wikipedia? They filtered (read: crippled) Wikipedia, for chrissakes -- and were allowed to do it! -- over ONE PICTURE. It was apparently a punk-type CD album cover featuring a nekkid child. Why didn't the IWF pick up the phone, call Wiki or their representative, and have the page taken down? But, nooooo. They had to filter-cripple Wikipedia, probably to demonstrate the fact that 1) they could do it, 2) the technology exists to do it, 3) they're permitted at a political level to do it -- even if they're made to UN-do it faster than you can say "Dudley Do-Right." Here's more: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2337430,00.asp

So here we get to the crunch: where does this stop? Why don't watchdog organizations employ out-of-work people to surf the web, find trashy material and report it, and then another bunch of unemployed people can be gainfully employed making phonecalls to the ISPs or website owners, getting pages taken down. The Aussie government is spending over $100 million on this filtering nonsense. MAKE JOBS FOR PEOPLE FOR GODSAKES!! (Pardon me for shouting, but I actually did feel like shouting that; and it's worth shouting.)

But no, it's got to be done with invasive, crippling technology ... and when the model is in place, it will far far too easy for consecutive governments to nip, tuck, tweak, amend, it. Here's how it works. According to PC Magazine (same link as above), "The ACMA currently maintains a list of 1,300 blacklisted URLs. The filtering pilot will expand that list to 10,000 URLs – none of which will be released publicly."

A blacklist is dead simple. It's like blocking an email contact, or a poster to a forum, someone who's gone off the deepend and needs to be muzzled; or blocking a certain telephone number from calling your phone.

A blacklist is automatically read by the system ... and all you gotta do is add urls and IP addresses to it.

How easy would it be to sneak 1,000 political urls onto the list? And another 1,000 addresses for sites where people take religion to pieces and display its nekkid bones? And another 5,000 addresses where bloggers speak out against the system. Not to mention the thousands of sites where gay people campaign, and communicate, and publish.

The whole thing is sickening, and the worst of it is, the ordinary, innocent Internet user will be the one hurt most, when broadband becomes as slow as a dial-up, and dial-up accounts become utterly unusable.

Here's a quote from yesterday's feature on news.com.au. "Government rejects negative internet filter report: A REPORT showing a mandatory internet filter will not work has been dismissed as untested by the Rudd Government. Senator Stephen Conroy yesterday made available the ISP Level Content Filtering Feasibility Study he received in February, commissioned by the Howard government. The report found content filtering as proposed by the Rudd Government would not work or be economically viable using current technologies, will slow internet speeds, block legitimate websites and be easily circumvented. One of the report's key findings said "it could be expected that allowed content would be blocked". "If all pornographic content is to be blocked, other content with a 'resemblance' in features will also be blocked; eg. sex education, medical information, erotic content etc," the report said." http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,24839172-953,00.html

I can tell you that, from my perspective, any filtering will be disastrous: we HAVE broadband, and it's sluggish at the best of times. It can take several minutes to load something like Hotmail or YouTube, and a minute to load even Gmail, or a story from Huffington Post. Slow this down by a factor of five, and all we'll be doing is timing out.

The chaos continues to grow. This was posted yesterday by iWire: "Earlier this morning, Australian Shadow Minister for Communications, Senator Nick Minchin, put out a press release accusing the Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, of “burying” a report into ISP filtering – but surprise, surprise, the report is now available for anyone to read. The news concerning Internet filtering and censorship in Australia just keeps getting worse, with the Federal Government now proposing to include (P2P) peer-to-peer and BitTorrent into the filtering trial, something that could greatly impact on legitimate uses of these services. There are also reports that ISPs such as iiNet, who have volunteered to be part of the ISP filtering trial, haven’t yet received any instructions from the Government on how to participate, despite the Government saying it wanted the trial to start before the end of 2008, a date that draws ever closer with each passing day. It’s also a date that has now been scrapped entirely, with the live filtering trial now due to begin in mid-January[.]" http://www.itwire.com/content/view/22440/127/

What did I say about the buff-heads running about in a frenzy of damage control right now?

Get this (also from iWire, same link as above): "This morning, Senator Minchin said: “It would seem the report, 'Feasibility Study of ISP Level Content Filtering', which was a joint Government and industry initiative, has been kept secret because it casts further serious doubts over the centralised Internet filtering system that Senator Conroy is looking to mandate.”Senator Minchin’s statement noted that the report said “centralised mandatory filtering will "significantly slow Internet speeds", inadvertently block acceptable content and be ineffective against peer-to-peer file sharing networks, chat rooms, email and instant messaging.”In addition, the report said: “entire user-generated content sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia could be blocked because of a single suspect posting.”

The UK Internet watchdogs already blocked Wikipedia a few weeks ago, to demonstrate that it can be done, and they're allowed to do it.

My question is, why does Internet censorship have to involve $100 million's worth of technology? Why not have 1,000 sensible adults surfing, looking for kidp*rn, and making phonecalls to have the pages taken down from responsible servers like Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, and so forth??? MAKE JOBS.

Or, put another way, follow the money: who's getting stinking rich now, out of the new filtering technology that's about to cripple the Internet? Find that person, or company, and you'll find the root of this problem.

These bozos are actually looking for ways to censor chat, email, and instant messaging! And what's more, they appear determined to engineer themselves into a position where they can, and must do it:

"It must also be highlighted that on 31 December the Rudd Labor Government will recklessly close the online safety program established by the previous Coalition Government, which sees Australian families given the option of obtaining free, PC-level filters, which can be tailored to the needs of individual households," Senator Minchin concluded. (iWire again.) http://www.itwire.com/content/view/22440/127/

In other words, the "free Net Nanny" will be withdrawn, and the whole country will be smothered by Kevin Rudd's idea of a Net Nanny For Grownups. As if he has some idea that significant numbers of Australians are drooling, tongues hanging out, for kidp*rn.

There's an online petition being organized right now, and as soon as I hit "publish" here, I'll be clicking over there and signing it: "If Internet users would like to help Australia avoid becoming the “Soviet Socialist Republic of the South” complete with its own “Great Barrier Firewall Reef” it might be an idea to visit the GetUp! website and take part in its campaign to “Save the Net!”.

When we know more, I'll post again, but for now --



Christmas Greetings to readers all across Australasia, New Zealand, Oceanaia, and Asia!

Cheers,
MK

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