Friday, 28 May 2010

Australian Internet Filtering - what we should be doing

There's so much spin and mis-information about the Internet Filtering debate in Australia, and unfortunately many of those debating the current issues don't understand what is being proposed and why it won't work.

Unfortunately one-size never fits all and even more so when it comes to Internet Filtering. The Internet presents us with many content and law-enforcement challenges, that require different solutions to solve - this is a fact that seems to escape the current Australian Government, with Stephen Conroy and Kevin Rudd wanting to plow ahead with a single, mandatory, ISP-based Internet filter.

What I've identified below are the problems that (some people think) we need to solve, why the currently proposed Conroy solution won't work, and what will work.


Why Conroy’s Solution Won’t Work

What Will Work

Children accidentally finding inappropriate content (porn)

Only the worst-of-the-worst pornography sites will be blocked by the filter

PC-based filtering. Government should pay the ISP $x per month, per client that has it installed – let the ISPs profit from it & it will get rolled out

Children deliberately finding inappropriate content (porn)

See above – under Conroy’s solution, children will still be able to browse porn sites

Voluntary ISP-based filtering that all ISPs must offer to their users. Funded by the Government, parents will be able to opt-in at no cost. Note: A determined, Internet-savy child, will still be able to bypass this, so an education campaign (for parents) is vital as well.

Child pornographers accessing child pornography

Child pornographers don’t visit normal websites to access and share material; they get it from peer-to-peer networks, private networks, or hacked websites. This material will not be able to be found or blocked by the Conroy filter.

Law enforcement. Undercover agents. Raids in the middle of the night. People smashing down doors.

People accessing refused-classification (RC) material

First of all – it isn’t illegal to create or to view RC material, you’ll only get in trouble from distributing it. But this material will only get classified as RC once its submitted to the classification board. The classification board doesn’t have enough reviewers to review the entire, dynamically changing Internet.

But the stuff they review and classify as RC will be blocked.

But bypassing the block will be as easy as buying a $50/year VPN connection to the United States, or visiting an anonymising site before you look at the RC material.

Nothing will work will well. The Conroy filter will be able to block RC material, but then all the provider of that material needs to do is change the content to to and the entire 3-month review cycle with the classification board will start again.

Of course, in the real world, RC material continues to get distributed anyway from friend-friend (i.e. peer-to-peer)

So my 3-step plan for cleaning-up the Internet in Australia is:

1. Net Alert: Continue to provide filtering software for people’s PCs. The Government pays the ISP enough to allow the ISP to make a profit & the ISP will then be incentivized to make people know about it.

2. Government funded ISP filters: ISPs will be required to implement them, but users can opt-in or opt-out to particular content.

3. Law enforcement: We’ll always need the police to bash down bad guy's doors

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