Australia’s Net Censorship Sparks Outrage

One of the most important Internet stories in Australia right now is that country’s federal government’s plan to start requiring ISP level censorship of the Internet. As part of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s AU$125.8 million Cyber-saftey plan. The plan requires that ISPs deliver a “clean-feed” web service to homes, school, and and public web access points.

The government will maintain two blacklists, one that filters out illegal material, mostly child pornography, and another that filters out objectionable material as determined by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The first list will be mandatory, while users will be able to opt out of the latter.

Under the guise of protecting children, Australians are seeing their freedoms limited. There’s a slippery slope here: no on really knows how the ACMA determines what content is added to the blacklist, and it can change those criteria without telling anyone. “The Australian government’s agenda on national censorship is based on an appeal to emotion – it doesn’t matter what it bans or censors, it can always claim it’s for the benefit of children,” wrote reporter Laura Parker in the UK newspaper The Guardian

In fact, the Australian Electronic Frontiers group (EFA) noted earlier this month that though the contents of the blacklist are secret, the AMCA does public some statistics on the makeup. Of the approximately 1,300 URLs on the list, only 3 were blocks because they were classified as pedophilia related. A large portion of the sites on the list were blocked for nudity, violence, crime, or “sexual fantasy,” but were actually legal.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say that this model involves more technical interference in the internet infrastructure than what is attempted in Iran, one of the most repressive and regressive censorship regimes in the world,” said EFA chair Colin Jacobs.

The EFA has been staunchly against the filtering scheme, and public sentiment has been against it as well. An online poll by the Courier-Mail newspaper in Queensland found that 86% of respondents did not want censorship. And there is some question of whether censorship schemes will even work, on a technical level. Australia’s last try at censorship, the AU$84 million NetAlert program put forth by former PM John Howard, was cracked in a half hour by a 16-year-old Aussie named Tom Wood in August 2007. Upon hearing about Wood’s feat, the government added another layer of filtering to beef up the system — Wood got through the new filter in 10 minutes.

The EFA recently published a letter in which Internet engineer Mark Newton expressed a number of concerns with the clean-feed plan. In addition to voicing fears about the slippery slope — the government has apparently begun to talk about filtering “unwanted” sites along with those deemed illegal — Newton lays out a number of other reasons the filtering plan is a bad idea. His points are summarized below:

  1. The Government has failed to identify a need for this policy.
  2. Even if there was a need, the Government has failed to demonstrate that its solution is wanted by the public.
  3. Even if the public wanted this solution, it won’t work.
  4. Even if it could work, it’s too expensive.
  5. Even if it wasn’t too expensive, it’ll be implemented poorly.
  6. In the unlikely event that it’s implemented perfectly, it will enable child abuse.
  7. The last point is predicated on Newton’s assertion that a leak of the blacklist itself is inevitable, and once that happens it will spread among pedophile groups helping unscrupulous individuals locate child pornography web sites that are up and online.

    A number of consumer advocacy groups in Australia have begun to protest the government’s plan. GetUp!, a progressive political action group in Australia, has started collecting signatures for a petition against the censorship aimed at Labour Senator Stephen Conroy, the minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy, who came up with the censorship plan.

    Another group, No Clean Feed, has started a separate petition, which as gather over 21,000 signatures, as well as an letter writing campaign to Conroy and other representatives, and ISPs.

    What do you think of Australia’s censorship plans? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • An Aussie

    As an Australian I am understandably VERY annoyed about this. Even with all of the major ISP’s in Australia saying that it is unfeasable and will not work the Government is planning to go ahead.

    Personally I think once the trail is finished it will be quietly dropped but not before causing all sorts of problems. The most interesting thing is that Kevin Rudd (Australia’s PM) got his government into office through forward thinking and using the internet, which appealed to the youth voters. Having talked to a lot of people since then he is certainly loosing support beased on this.

    One other thing to remember is that the filter provided by Howard was opt in, and less then 1% of the population downloaded and applied it. Clearly this speaks that the Australian public does not want the filter.

    http://whirlpool.net.au/ is another good source of information about this.

  • A common man

    If net censorship starts here I will quietly start encouraging the destruction of government buildings and institutions.

    I will encourage all children i meet to throw stones and cause mayhem on any government institution and any public servants.

    You think muslim terrorists are a problem, wait till western terrorists start emerging to overthrow this government.

    I will not let our forefathers blood be spilled in vain

    death to tyrants and stupid governance… long live freedom!

  • SusannaD

    OK, I admit it, I can’t understand any of this. Neither can Stephen Conroy. Does he actually use the internet?

  • http://www.tyssendesign.com.au Tyssen

    I signed the Get Up petition.

  • Anonymous

    This is stupid. Sorry but what is the problem with the government trying to control every thing and all the information. There attacking Iran for not letting people express theme self’s but or governments are doing the same thing.

  • lightning

    Dear Senator Conroy,

    if you think your Internet filter technology is so effective then PROVE IT for everyone to see.
    As an IT consultant with 17 years experience in infrastructure design I propose a
    NICE SIMPLY TEST.

    Filter just one port in the tcp/ip protocol stack, that being the smtp port for Email and filter it for just “Viagra” spam of ALL sorts.

    If you can’t accomplish that I will NEVER believe you can effectively filter “undesirable content” of all sorts on the other 65 thousand odd ports of the protocol without completely screwing up the internet in the process.

    Until you pass that test, leave the net alone, as you obviously do not know what you are doing!!!!

    Where is the point in spending billions on a high speed broadband network if surfing is reduced to dial up speeds

    And opening your mouth to prove your level of ignorance has NEVER been a good look.
    It is far better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove ALL DOUBT

  • Luke

    me too.

    This is just outrageous

  • World Wide Weird

    The government will maintain two blacklists, one that filters out illegal material, mostly child pornography, and another that filters out objectionable material as determined by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The first list will be mandatory, while users will be able to opt out of the latter.

    In other words, people are crying because they won’t be allowed to view child porn, which is already illegal. Boo hoo.

  • Jorachim

    The point is the first filter can contain blocks to more than just child porn. It can be whatever they want. They just sat it’s for the children to validate their actions.

  • Jack

    It doesn’t bother me if porn-addicts can’t get their fix.

  • No Censorship

    World Wide Weird, as this article uses out of date information a few things have changed, the opt out has been removed, both lists are compulsory now.

    This is massive censorship, with more content blocked than in China, North Korea or Iran.

    Sign the Get Up petition for the sake of out democratic sovereignty!

  • danh2000

    What’s not mentioned here is the possible negative impact that this will have on Australia’s already embarassing broadband speeds – it’s an absolute joke to call it high speed internet on many ISPs.

    To then add a filtering layer which will slow down the request – response times even further would be painful :(

    It’s for this reason that I’ve just joined the getup protest.

  • cf

    The problem isn’t that people won’t be able to view child porn. The problem is that they still will. This scheme is only for filtering web browsing (port 80, http) traffic and banning certain websites. So it won’t even filter P2P traffic. Even if it did there’s still offshore proxies (which have legitimate uses, but could easily be used to bypass the Government’s filters).

    The filters will also slow down our already slow Internet connections. Wasn’t high speed broadband another one of the Government’s policies?

    Either this is just a political farse or it’s ignorance on the Government’s part. Conroy and Rudd, start listening to the experts and your citizens!

    cf

  • Craig

    World Wide Weird, you missed the point. Child porn will be available to those that are after it with the filter or not. The reality is that no internet filters yet developed actually work when people are determined to get around them. Even filters in China or Iran can be gotten around, but the people who do so are too afraid they will ‘go missing’.

  • JB-SYD

    @World Wide Weird
    Do you have any idea how this works? Do you understand that for this to work, each and every packet of data needs be inspected @ the ISP before deciding if it should be blocked.
    The will have VERY serious impacts on aspects of internet life. Firstly, the result will almost certainly slow down internet connections (remember that AUS isn’t the gold standard for either internet connectivity or speed). Secondly the cost I am sure will be passed on to people that don’t want this ‘service’ further degrading an already iffy experience. Lasty, as with all decisions in life, I don’t want to be told what I can and cannot read by someone who clearly doesn’t understand FREE SPEACH.

    World Wide Weird…perhaps you could research the topic better, get educated on how better to protect YOURSELF and if you don’t like some sites DON’T GO THERE.

  • coldert

    @World Wide Weird: “In other words, people are crying because they won’t be allowed to view child porn, which is already illegal.

    I guess you refered to the “opt out” bit, and that you can get a “clean” net anyway, only without child porn. The “access to child porn” bit has already been commented. What you might not realize is that if you opt out of the second blacklist, you will get noticed. Why would you want to access (perfectly legal) sites on a blacklist? “Hmm, better keep an eye on that one. Sure, it’s legal, but still…”

    @Jack: “It doesn’t bother me if porn-addicts can’t get their fix.

    So, if you’re ok with it, so should the rest of us..? What else don’t you like, so we can stay away from that as well..? Homosexuals? Jews? Nude photography? Just let us know and we’ll stop right away!

  • Anonymous

    Do NOT let this happen folks!!!

    People are way easier to manipulate & control via Censorship, than without it…

    Censorship makes it easier to keep the lid on many things (like controlled Mainstream media), we are not supposed to know!!…

    Be forewarned & aware of this…

  • Samboc

    Remember you voted for Him.

    Look up

    Narcissistic

    Egotistical

    Megalomaniac

    This is the Prime Minister that was voted in by a Majority of Australians.

  • Stupid_Is_As_Stupid_Does

    Show us a proof of concept that actually works.
    You will then be shown 100 ways to bypass or negate it.

    This will only result in a big waste of time. A waste of time that the Australian people will end up paying for twice.

    Point to consider:
    If you start blanket blocking ‘all bad stuff’ how the hell are you going to detect the sickos, psychos and ‘would-be bad people’?
    I’d sleep alot better knowing that these types of people will continue to be arrested or put on watch lists etc through their online activities. As opposed to never getting noticed by authorities due to content filtering.

    Listen to the network engineers that do not have anything to gain.
    They will all tell you it’s ridiculous.

    Look at China, they have what, 50000 IT ninjas trying to keep their GreatWall up and they still have trouble.

  • mailco

    Australians have been victims of Government now since day one. Australians right to bear arms and defend themselves has been taken away but still any criminal can have a weapon. Now they want to restrict our rights to view any information as they see fit. Who is going to censor the censors. This is one more step down the slippery slop of losing our freedom. If they can’t stop spam or gambling how are they going to stop what they consider undesirable and at what price? They always tell us they have not got the money to help the more unfortunate ones amongst us, but they have enough money to censor what we do?

  • Duke

    Jack says: I don’t know jack about this so I won’t post jack…t anymore proving whata jack.ss I am…

  • what is this bloke up to

    Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says he will raise concerns with the Chinese Government about internet censorship during the Olympics. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is concerned by the censorship stance in Beijing.

  • http://fcOnTheWeb.com ferrari_chris

    Wow. I fear this is just the beginning of a slippery slope.

    Sure, it’s well intended with the blocking of child-porn and that, but I’m sure nobody thinks the level of censorship applied to the Chinese Internet connections is acceptable? This govt. introduced net filtering is just the same, only on a lower level.

    A slippery slope…

  • Anonymous

    Come to the Anti-censorship rally on December 13th 2008 11am at Sydney Town Hall square. A large group will be protesting while we’re still allowed to. Freedom of speech is too important to be left to the wowsers. This is about the power to arbitrarily restrict the public’s access to information about anything. The filter is mandatory, and the banned list is secret. This is totalitarian police state tactics, don’t stand for it.
    For more information: Sydney Town Hall Protest to Stop Internet censorship & filtering

  • Klas

    Pedophiles should be behind bars, NOT behind encrypted traffic and VPNs which this joke of a solution will encourage.

  • nightwatchman

    Rudd is slowly starting to slide down the slippery slope of p!ss!ng me off, and I thought he had some real potential.

    Perhaps Conroy and Rudd are well-meaning but this crazy idea is likely to make sure they don’t get another term in office.

  • Ashamed Australian

    I will be leaving this country if this goes through. This has been the single biggest attack on our democracy since it’s founding.

  • Michel Merlin

    WC is busy

    Web Censorship is growing fast and soon becoming universal; they are testing in Australia but will certainly spread fast on the World Wide Web; they are pretending child porn but this zero-credibility pretext is just the bait hiding the real censorship.

    If AU government knows something is wrong (child porn for the matter), how can they imply that families don’t? If families find something is inexistent or not dangerous, which right has the government to restrict citizens’ rights on that ground? If they are really only filtering what they say (namely, child porn), why do they need to hide the list?

    All these are only pretexts; as all tyrants in history they are just stripping the People from their basic rights alleging doorkeeper-level so-called “arguments”.

    The ones above faking to believe that citizens watch child porn and need government to stop them, are just censorship shills. As are people behind the hypocrite Get Up “Save The Net” petition No 442: they paint the problem as Australian, to better hide the maneuver is world wide; as child porn, to better hide that it’s political and racial; as dangerous for bandwidth, to better hide that the real aim is at freedom of expression, hence incomparably worse.

    Remember Benjamin Franklin: Who trades a freedom for a security will lose both.

    (Don’t hope find this famous quote on the web any more: the perpetrators are so annoyed with it that they have “cleaned” the web about it, removing most of the true references and drowning the rest by posting a flow of forged altered ones).

    Versailles, Thu 4 Dec 2008 18:36:25 +0100

  • A common teen

    I most certainly agree with you. I have trouble accessing my emails and the podcasts I upload!
    I can’t even download my Linux distros any more!
    – Forget skype
    – Forget youtube
    – forget Itunes
    – Forget Linux
    – Forget freedom of speech

    This looks like the start of a communist australia. I wonder what we look like to the Americans and other countries? The country that tried? Kevin Krudd or Kruddie as most of us know him as. Is a stupid idiot. The americans are scoffing at us and all the rest of the world is laughing at our speeds. You might as well buy dial up as ADSL 2+ is now at the same speed as everybody else. We might even stop using the internet as it is too slow! Imagine that! So Mr Krudd, get f–ked.
    .