Australia The Nanny State?

20 03 2009

As the title suggests is Australia slowly becoming a Nanny State?
My personal view is that we are indeed slipping towards this title as the current Labor government lead by our esteemed leader Chairman Rudd had proposed last year to implement an internet filter at the ISP level to ‘filter’ Australia’s internet to prevent ‘prohibited content’ from being viewed.

Now the filter is a two teir system; there is a mandatory blacklist that everybody must submit to and an additional filter to make your internet connection ‘child friendly’ which we have the option of ‘opting out’. So you’re probably asking yourself what sort of content will the government block?

The government is planning to block the aforementioned ‘prohibited content’ now; the catch is who exactly gets to decide what is ‘prohibited’, according to the Concise Edition English Dictionary from Webster’s Reference Library (ISBN 1 85534 961 2) to prohibit means: to forbid by law. This responsibility falls on to the shoulders of the ACMA who will be maintaining the government blacklist of ‘prohibited content’ unfortunately this blacklist is not viewable by the general public which puts everyone who wants to know what content is blocked in the dark as to what can and cannot be viewed.
This idea of creating a system to filter Australia’s internet is not a new idea, this idea was already on the cards with the previous Howard Government but was found to be unworkable as it would in the words of the previous Minister of Communications Helen Coonan:

“…filter the Internet will only result in slowing down the Internet for every Australian without effectively protecting children from inappropriate and offensive content…”

This is supported by government commissioned contracted to various companies all coming to the conclusion that it would in one way or another cripple Australia’s already slow internet connections the latest figures stand at 22%~87% slower browsing speeds with a rough false positive rate of 1%~3%.
With some quick maths I can roughly estimate what sort of speeds I’ll be getting while browsing the internet; I currently run an ADSL2+ connection and paying about $50AU with a 50GB cap on it before being shaped down to dial up speeds.
My connection seems to peak at around ~570kb/s which is when I’ve completely saturated my connection, lets assume the best case scenario that the filter does kill my connection by 22% which gives a respectable 444.6kb/s, but the problem is that this is when I’ve completely saturated my connection. Most of the time when loading websites it barely peaks the ~200kb/s mark which gives around 156kb/s this keeping in mind that I am the only user on our home network with 4 people all accessing the pipe the internet slows down to mind numbing speeds.
But at least we can bare with it as we’re the luck few who has access to a fast broadband connection, what happens to those who live in rural areas who have to make do with slow, expensive satellite connections, old fashioned dial up (yes believe it or not people we still have people who use dial up) or home owners who can only afford say a 512/128 plan (again I know people who still use this type of broadband) what happens to their already slow speeds?
What happens if it’s not the above best case scenario and the internet is crippled with a 87% performance hit what will this mean to big business who need fast transfers, and the home users who pay lavish amounts of money to get a fast connection only to have it function at 13% capacity?

With a slow connection all sorts of bad things happen, the worst being drop outs when loading websites with sites not loading altogether or half working.
This is especially worrying for those of us who use online banking not knowing if our information was sent or not or worse lost on the other end.

Conroy has been going on about how it will not effect us in anyway as we have fast 12-50mbit connections but in the real world none of these connections live up to their claims.
Another technical aspect that would ultimately slow the internet down for Australia was that the filter to effectively detect ‘prohibited’ content it had to check every incoming and outgoing packet which is equivalent to Australia Post (our country wide postal service) opening every single letter and package at their sorting centers and checking them before letting them through which is simply not workable. This checking of everything going in and out effects our personal details that are sent over the net what happens to our passwords, our bank details and other important data that is sent over the internet sometimes over unsecured channels.
Even checking all packets going to and fro this does not guarentee that the system will not accidentally block legitimate websites even with a rather positive 1% false positive rate it still equates to a fair number of sites being inadvertantly blocked – for example it is safe to assume that there are at least 1 billion websites on the internet with a quick calculation we come up with 10 million sites that could be accidentally blocked which is a very large amount of content.
A good real world example is at my workplace the in-house content filter blocked access to supplier sites for our own goods that need to be ordered or returned.

The filter is also unable to filter encrypted traffic such as Tor traffic it is these encrypted channels that illicit material such as child pornography is traded as anyone with the right mind to commit to such activities would not be foolish enough to be posting or acquiring their material over unsecured channels.

The recent leak of the ACMA’s blacklist onto Wikileaks has confirmed the suspicions of many people that the government is planning to block more than just child pornography, with various Youtube videos, Wikipedia entries and news articles being on the block list, and recently Wikileaks has been added to the blacklist.
The blatant actions of the ACMA were apparent when they served‘s (an Australia broadband information and forum) host a AU$11,000 fine if they did not remove a banned hyperlink that a user had posted on the site, this was about two days before tthe eventual leak of the current ACMA blacklist onto Wikileaks (which convieniently is inaccessable as of right now).
Currently the government’s position on this leak was that it was a complete fabrication according to Stephen Conroy’s press release.

So in conlusion the internet filter will not only slow Australia’s internet down to a crawl, the fact that it has to look at everything that passes through it to determine if the content is suitable poses security questions as to what happens to our personal information.
Possible erratic blocking of content resulting in legitimate sites being banned, the inability for the filter to check encrypted lines of communication would result in most illicit content elluding detection.
Finally, the questionable state of the ACMA blacklist which is unviewable by normal citizens, the general actions of the ACMA and the government claiming that the leaked blacklist was just a fabrication.
Should raise red flags as to the erratic behaviour of the government.

I personally believe that the money spent on this project would be better allocated towards education programs to teach children save web browsing habits, and The Police – theses are the people who investigate and eventually bust the deviants. Not some internet speed crippling political tool designed to blindfold the populace and restrict our freedom of expression.

I’ll leave you all with a though and for those who think this will never effect them:

“In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Source Link for Poem




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