The Great Firewall of Australia?

Under the guise of won’t-somebody-think-of-the-kids, the Australian Government is pushing ahead with plans to put in ISP-level filters that block “illegal content” which you can’t opt out of.

In the grand scheme of not living in a marginal electorate, my vote counts for diddly-squat, but this is not something I would’ve voted for. It would appear the transition of Australian Labour from progressive to conservative is complete, along with fully emboldened ministers’ departments seeking to silence dissent. It would appear Chinese is not all that Rudd learnt from his 10 years in China.

From a purely legal stand-point, the valid question to me at this point would be “why is this a bad thing? isn’t stopping illegal activity a bad thing?” A valid question, quite apart from the fact that this is a slippery slope of censorship. I hesistate to think what “illegal content” means – the current definition appears to be:

Australian Communications and Media Authority’s official blacklist, which is in turn based on the country’s National Classification Scheme.

Given that our classification scheme bans games which show a level of violence considered acceptable on movie screens, this absurdity promises to play out across the internet, too.

Given also the behaviour of the communications minister’s department at attempting to silence a dissenting voice, you’ve got to wonder how much this is capable of becoming something in line with The Great Firewall of China, used to silence dissenting political voices.

[Communications Minister] Senator Conroy has himself accused critics of his filtering policy of supporting child pornography – including Greens Senator Scott Ludlam in Senate Estimates this week.

That is a line used to cover anything – you can almost here the cry of “paedophile!”

Political parties nominally left of centre (“liberal” with a small l) that start to try to impose restrictions on dissent put themselves squarely in the spotlight of hypocrisy, and feed the notion of a police state. How far around the corner is Minitrue, Thoughtcrime and pre-crime?

The other fear I have is that this will be used to pander to MPAA and RIAA, and all the other industry groups collectively either as MAFIAA or Big Content. Their tactics in hunting down and imposing $200,000 lawsuits against individuals who’ve downloaded maybe 10 songs in their lifetime are an abuse of the legal system, and more often than not they’ve been denied repeatedly in the courts. This seems to be an open path for their lobbying to try to stop all “illegal content” coming through in the hopes of exploiting consumers for every dollar they’ve got and foisting needless DRM.

The question again arises: “it’s illegal – what’s wrong?” What is wrong is an open secret: it doesn’t work. One:

But neither filter tier will be capable of censoring content obtained over peer-to-peer file sharing networks, which account for an estimated 60 per cent of internet traffic.


[N]one of the filters [tested] were completely accurate. They allowed access to between 2 per cent and 13 per cent of material that should have been blocked, and wrongly blocked between 1.3 per cent and 7.8 per cent of websites that should have been allowed.

and Three:

Only one of the filters tested resulted in an acceptable speed reduction of 2 per cent or less. The others caused drops in speed between 21 per cent and 86 per cent.

The tests showed the more accurate the filtering, the bigger the impact on network performance.

2 percent is acceptable? 86% is possible? Australia’s broadband is slow enough as is, without this unnecessarily hinderence slowing it down all the more.

In Senate Estimates, Senator Ludlam expressed concern that all sorts of politically-sensitive material could be added to the block list and otherwise legitimate sites – for example, YouTube – could be rendered inaccessible based on content published by users.

“The black list … can become very grey depending on how expansive the list becomes – euthanasia material, politically related material, material about anorexia. There is a lot of distasteful stuff on the internet,” he said.

Senator Ludlam, you’ve got my vote.

2 replies on “The Great Firewall of Australia?”

I’m hoping we’ll see this issue quietly shelved, but nothing’s guaranteed just yet. Coupled with the recent news of the SA Attorney-General blocking any public debate about a possible R18+ classification for games, I have to wonder where this country is heading in terms of our own freedom of speech. Still, as long as the Liberals and the Greens continue to oppose it (and who would have ever thought we’d see those two on the same side?), it doesn’t stand much of a chance.

I actually went to a protest in the city today for it, and…pretty much nobody was there. I’m hoping it was just poor planning on the part of the organisers. Clearly they haven’t heard Myspace is passé now and Facebook is where you need to advertise things. :P

Indeed – to think that the Liberals and the Greens are both on the same side of this debate is something that should send a real message :) I’m hoping it’s more than shelved, if only just to put it out of temptation from someone sneaking it in as a rider on some other piece of legislation more acceptable to the minor parties. This is also why it’s reassuring to have the Senate acting as a proper house of review.

I’m guessing there weren’t too many at the protest because it isn’t exactly a visible issue to most, and there’s the (legitimate) child-protection factor to which is going to inevitably cloud the issue of other freedoms and make protest a little unpopular.

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