Electronic Frontiers Australia today welcomed the release of the Government's Internet filtering report but predicted that the debate is far from over.

"There are few surprises in this document," said EFA spokesperson Colin Jacobs. "Given the pilot's modest goals, it was designed from the beginning to pass. Although it may address some technical issues, what it leaves out is far more important - exactly what will be blocked, who will decide, and why is it being attempted in the first place?"

The report found that generally, ISPs were able to block a government-provided blacklist of several thousand web sites without a major impact on service levels. It also found that circumvention was trivial for motivated users, calling the effectiveness of the proposal into question.

The report indicated that there were costs associated with filtering, which would hit smaller ISPs the hardest. The expected costs for Australian Internet users were not addressed in the report, nor were other alternatives such as increasing support for home-based filters. Although several ISPs also tested filtering beyond the government blacklist, the report finds they were only 84% accurate in the best case.

It's not unexpected that the censorship proved technically possible. EFA notes that, since the election, the government's "cyber-safety" plan has shifted away from providing tools to shield minors on the web to a black list of "almost exclusively RC (Refused Classification)" content aimed at adults.

"The Government knows this plan will not help Australian kids, nor will it aid in the policing of prohibited material. Given the problems in maintaining a secret blacklist and deciding what goes on it, we're at a loss to explain the Minister's enthusiasm for this proposal," said Jacobs.

"We'll be interested to see how the Internet service providers respond. We know they are critical of having such intrusive Government interference in their networks," he added.

Although the minister has hailed the pilot a success, many concerns about the proposal remain ignored. Neither draft legislation nor a comprehensive policy document have yet been released to the Australian public, though legislation is expected in 2010.

"Successful technology isn't necessarily successful policy. We're yet to hear a sensible explanation of what this policy is for, who it will help, and why it is worth spending so much taxpayers' money on."

– Ends –

Background:

About EFA:

Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc. (EFA) is a non-profit national
organisation representing Internet users concerned with on-line
rights and freedoms. EFA was established in 1994, is independent
of government and commerce, and is funded by membership subscriptions
and donations from individuals and organisations with an altruistic
interest in promoting online civil liberties.

Media Contacts:

Mr Colin Jacobs
EFA Vice-Chair
Phone: 0402 631 955
Email: cjacobs at efa.org.au

Mr Geordie Guy
EFA Board Member
Phone: 0415 797 142
Email: gguy at efa.org.au

24 comments

  1. Suitably timed so attention becomes divided between censorship of the internet,

    "Broadband and Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy says some
    internet content is simply not suitable in a civilised society."

    and discussion http://www.ag.gov.au/gamesclassification
    of an X rating for computer games.

    Conroy is quoted as saying "the Government will not determine what is blacklisted on the internet in Australia, rather an independent body will determine what
    sites are rated as RC for refused classification."

    He deliberately ignores the fact that it is the government who passes the legislation that is to be enforced by the independant body, therefore it is the government who actually censors the internet.

    This is exactly like the double talk that governments use to try and bewilder the people when they don't want to discuss an issue that they intend to go ahead with despite the wishes of the people.
    The people have been forcefully educated for the last 100 years and are no longer the ignorant, cap touching peasants that governments like to believe we are.
    Now after all that education the government continues to insult us by telling grown adults they are not able to make up their own mind about what they want to see and hear.

    A certain Imman was metaphorically flogged in the public arena for comparing scantily clothed women to uncovered meat. The implication was that women had nothing to complain about if men could not control their urges and attacked them.

    Censorship is not much different. The government says that you as an adult are not able to control your urges if you watch certain material.

    Conroy should be publicly flogged for the way he is insulting Adult Australians, with a video of it being posted on YouTube. Oh hang on You tube will be censored too won't it?
    It won't? It will? It won't? It will? It won't? It will? It won't?

    Comment by Sarah Farmer on 16 December 2009 at 1:55 am
  2. I personally don't have an issue with the government trying (even if they will fail) to make the online censorship/rating the same as offline (books,videos,magazines,etc) censorship/rating.

    I also don't have an issue with people saying some of the governments decisions on censorship/laws (i.e. I know some object to it being illegal for material to be published that explains how to commit a crime/do something that is illegal (again, even if we disagree that it is illegal)) are wrong. In face I think it is a better argument/tactic to argue and try to have better systems on these decisions then it is arguing that we shouldn't have filters.

    Just my opinion (and thank goodness in Australia we can have our opinions!)
    Molly

    Comment by Phillip Malone on 16 December 2009 at 2:08 am
  3. How do they plan to accurately classify the hundreds of millions of websites out there??? I mean they failed to even get it right when there were just a few hundred in their list.

    Comment by JKS on 16 December 2009 at 4:42 am
  4. Keep on fighting EFA. You have our support. We will not let the Government tell us what is and is not appropriate!

    Comment by Craig on 16 December 2009 at 5:43 am
  5. According to Govt stats, 30% of all car accidents are caused by drunk drivers. Therefore it stands to reason that 70% of all accidents are caused by non drunk drivers. According to these statistics you are less likely to have an accident if you drive drunk. Total rubbish of course but it is these type Govt biased "fool all of the people all of the time" stats that Moron Conroy is trying to push down our throats. This is the same Govt who ban video games because they don't have an 18+ rating. How backward are out IT illiterate politicians.

    Comment by Chris Breen on 16 December 2009 at 7:49 am
  6. Could someone please explain to me why this filter couldn't be opt-out?

    Enabled by default, it would protect the technologically-illiterate, the lazy, and the dumb. It would also require no extra effort by those who actually want to have their content filtered. As this filter would be installed at ISP level, could it then not also be opted-out of by a user actively changing a setting on their account with their ISP? These users could then of course still install their own filters on their home pc's, if they'd prefer.

    Comment by John on 16 December 2009 at 8:56 am
  7. I would personally like to know if there are any planned protests for this issue within Melbourne for this year or the year after, I'm more that willing to march in the streets of Melbourne,

    i just need to know the time and the place and I'll be there to support

    I personally do not believe that this filter is needed or that it will be effective the net is the last truly free place on the net, and once they start banning euthanasia sites because the government doesn't believe in it where does it end ?

    I'm willing to march and hope others would be too

    Comment by Meo on 16 December 2009 at 8:11 pm
  8. Hello EFF

    I was listening to ABC local radio this morning and I heard part of the conversation with the EFF re Internet filtering.

    I knew Australia was becoming a police state a long while ago but it seems we've now confirmed the fact to the world with Internet filtering. Trouble is that most Australians are complacent bloody-minded sheep and will just let this happen without so much as a whimper. Oh how I long for the old anti-Vietnam demo days of the late 1960s when for a very short time governments were actually scared of us citizens. Now every damned thing we do is controlled by the State and almost no one gives a $#@!.

    It seems to me that Internet filtering is pretty much a Nanny-state measure. If it can be defined as such, then as a result of the recent High Court decision re the Tasmanian pub case, it is possible that the law/regulation just might be unconstitutional.

    Listen to what this ABC Radio National Counterpoint program has to say about the matter of Nanny State and the High Court decision: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/200...

    It seems well worth following up, it's just conceivable that our 19th Century Victorian-age Constitution might ultimately protect us from these narrow-minded, authoritarian religious zealots who are supposedly our politicians.

    Comment by Hilbert on 16 December 2009 at 8:29 pm
  9. Any more street protests being organised?

    Comment by Simon Shaw on 16 December 2009 at 10:04 pm
  10. I am outraged at the planned implementation of this filter and am prepared to march against it in the streets until my feet bleed!

    The constant erosion of freedoms in this country is highly disturbing, and the number of people I am acquainted with who placidly nod their heads mumbling "it's all for our own good, think of the children" is mind-blowing.

    We tut-tut at the state controlled Chinese media, but fail to see that we are heading down that same path. Even Howard wouldn't have touched this one.

    We all need to get off our complacent backsides and fight. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose.

    Comment by Rachel Downey on 16 December 2009 at 11:18 pm
  11. @Chris Breen: Not sure your analogy/hyphotist is right. To come up with that, you would actually need to analyse the number of people that drive drunk and don't have an accident verse the number that do and then compare that to the number that don't drive drunk and don't have an accident and then compare that to the number that do and see which is the greater percentage. I think what you really can take out of that stat is that if you are in an accident, on the figures you quoted, it will be more likely that you are sober then drunk. That doesn't then go on to say you are better off being drunk driving.

    The Government quoting the 100% mark IS 100% right, its just a matter of what of what they mean by it and that they explain that this is not the be all and end all. I.E. if you just put one of the URLs on the list in and this system is in place (and you haven't done anything else to avoid the system like VPN or Proxies) you will be blocked 100% of the time. What they also need to make sure they mention is there are ways around the system so you can't rely on this.

    @John The reason that you can't make it opt out or only opt in is the same reason I can't opt out of speed limits. Its the law. We might not like some of the laws that they use to pic sites to block (and to me that is a better place to concentrate your protest) like drug sites or certain sexual practices that are reportedly going to be blocked, but they are laws now and that is what they are blocking.

    To me the important thing is that we get good system for setting up and maintaining the list, that the sites that are blocked are blocked in a way that you know they are blocked and that there is a (independent) process to challenge the blocking and that they contact site owners that they are putting on the list if they are contactable (all things that they are considering).

    JMTC
    Molly

    Comment by Phillip Malone on 17 December 2009 at 2:37 am
  12. Okay so say we keep a blocked list of these sites which is fine with me. What i am concerned about is the implications it has to block sites under an RC classification. For example you have http://www.youtube.com, there is no way that the government can classify all the material to provide an accurate rating of every single video link. Which leaves an option to block you tube completely. Also the same goes for deviant art and other sites that are similar. This filter is coming from a government which has no laws that technically protect freedom of speech or freedom of artistic expression. The potential it has to block content which is given an RC rating is disturbing.

    Comment by Grant Davidson on 17 December 2009 at 3:35 am
  13. Pingback: Australische regering zet plannen voor internetfilter door « Sp00kje Nieuws Punt NL

  14. @Grant the potential is for them to block the entire internet but in reality, we all know that won't happen. We also know there will be mistakes and that is why (I believe) those against the filter (who by the way, I think are normally more against somethings that will be filtered correctly that they don't think should be filtered) should really concentrate on the list creation/maintenance policy rather then fighting the filter altogether and/or fight the laws that mean items will be blocked that they don't think should be, i.e. Euthanasia and the laws around it.
    JMTC

    Comment by Phillip Malone on 17 December 2009 at 4:49 am
  15. @Grant
    In the report, it is mentioned that for high volume traffic sites, like youtube, deals will be made with the sites so that RC content will be taken down or Australian IP addresses blocked by the site. This is to prevent the problem of massive slow down due to high traffic sites.

    As much as I don't like the idea of the filter, I can't truly say it is bad. It is the way they are planning to implement it that is the main issue. If it only blocks things like child sexual abuse, and only under specific instances, then I wouldn't have much of an issue, AS LONG as I know that it won't be abused, which is the biggest fear.

    Comment by Josh Driver on 17 December 2009 at 7:50 am
  16. In response to #14 by Josh Driver

    Blocking Australian addresses at the YouTube site won't work. Someone could easily "spoof" their IP address with a subscription VPN. For about $15 a month, someone could get an account there and use that to bypass the country filters at YouTube.

    Heck, EuriVision blocked their Olypmpic coverage to IP addresses outside of Europe, but $15 to a subscription VPN in Gemrany let me get around that.

    Comment by Zaphod on 17 December 2009 at 8:11 am
  17. Josh Driver said

    Comment by Sarah Farmer on 17 December 2009 at 8:12 am
  18. A word on the Australian Internet censorship scandal

    I've had a quick scan over Senator Stephen Conroy's infamous, long-awaited report on the efficacy of current Internet filtering technology and find it to be nothing short of scandalous. Without getting into the nitty gritty details (for example, how a filtering solution can achieve the impossible by improving rather than degrading the performance of encrypted, random transfers), it reads like it's a whitepaper for one of the various purveyors of censorship technology.

    The cynic in me insisted I take a quick look at who these Enex Pty Ltd jabbers are anyway - who knows, they could be an industry lobby group for all we know. Sure enough, a quick look at their corporate client list reveals (based on some quick Google searching) over a dozen companies who make a living selling commercial censorship technology:

    Anthology Solutions
    Content Keeper Technologies
    Content Watch
    F-Secure Corporation
    Internet Sheriff Technology
    Manaccom
    MessageLabs
    NetBox Blue
    Netgear
    Netsweeper
    PC Tools Software
    Raritan (?)
    Secure Computing Corporation (McAfee)
    Symantec
    Trend Micro

    To put things in perspective, this represents around a quarter of their published client list, and that's not including half a dozen or so service providers that could arguably be thrown in with this bunch. Who in their right mind would risk upsetting one in four of their paying customers by writing a report critical of their products? And does anyone really believe that these vendors resisted the urge to apply pressure? Or that there were not personal relationships involved? I don't, not for a second. In my opinion this report was rigged from the outset to succeed, and in doing so deprive Australians of essential civil liberties.

    The report itself is fatally flawed; the error margins are significant (e.g.

    Comment by Sam Johnston on 17 December 2009 at 6:13 pm
  19. Interesting @Sam, who would have thought this was all about making profit for certain interests. I wonder if there may be Ministers who have shares in those companies, er I mean spouses with shares.

    Has anyone read the Broadcasting Services Act, Amended Nov 20, 2009
    Vol 2, Colin? It appears legislation is already in place, excerpt from act:

    If, in the course of an investigation under Division 2 of Part 3 of Schedule 7, the ACMA is satisfied that Internet content hosted outside Australia is prohibited content or potential prohibited content, the ACMA must:

    Give each Internet service provider known to the ACMA a written notice (a standard access-prevention notice) directing the provider to take all reasonable steps to prevent end-users from accessing the content.

    Comment by Alan Watson on 17 December 2009 at 9:57 pm
  20. In response to #18 by Sam Johnston, the problem with using commercial filering technology would be web sites that outsmartthe filters by blocking the networks of the filtering vendors so the sites cannot be crawled.

    I run an online radio station, and I do that so that I cannot be crawled, and, therefore, not added to the filtering lists used in workplaces, so that the station can be heard at work. I do this becuase I see nothing wrong with Internet radio at work as long as you are getting your work done.

    Comment by Zaphod on 18 December 2009 at 4:26 am
  21. @Zaphod: Last I checked the censors don't publish their source addresses, and in any case the main list is created in response to user complaints. Sure there are ways to reduce the chances of ending up in something like Websense but the point is that we need to tackle this head on while we still have a chance and look at workarounds later if they really go through with it.

    Comment by Sam Johnston on 18 December 2009 at 10:05 am
  22. I was always afraid something like this would happen if we ever had a "banana-bender"
    in the top job in Canberra and by God I was right.The sooner the Australian people realise they've had the wool pulled over their eyes big-time by this smooth talking
    pineapple farmer and vote hime and his cronies out of office,the happier Australia will be. Just look at what he's done with his cash handouts and other follies.
    We used to have a surplus in Treasury but I think it'll be years before we recover from what K.Crud and his mates have done to us.

    Comment by Tony Brown on 25 December 2009 at 6:36 pm
  23. Reading "Little Brother" a while ago, i was occasionally terrified for the protagonists, in the powerlessness of their situation. Reading about the censorship in Australia gives me the same feeling, as if we have no influence over the government. While not strictly accurate, i think that this is not far off the mark, our "representative" democracy is little better than elitist dictatorship, as we have little say over who is actually elected PM.

    Another way the government could "protect" children and simpletons, probably much cheaper, is to buy exclusive rights to some proprietary filter, and mail a copy to any household interested. This would protect said children, while still giving power to the parents and citizens. Even better, they could sponsor a - shock - open source project for cheaper still, and make sure that everyone could use it for free.

    Comment by Anon on 4 January 2010 at 1:45 am
  24. I don't trust governments. The fear is that laws and regulations of sex censorship today will be the stepping stones to political censorship tomorrow.

    Comment by peter on 16 February 2010 at 5:19 am