Gillard says we “can’t dispute” the filter – I disagree.

July 8th, 2010

Different leader, same dogma. Everyone should think very carefully about this before we hand the government AN INSTANT OFF SWITCH FOR ANY WEBSITE or page on the Internet, and keep such actions secret.

Gillard: “The underlying principle, you can’t dispute: why should you treat the internet differently from any form of communications like films and books and so on.” (The Age, July 8th, 2010)

Eh? We “can’t dispute” it? Luckily, we still can:

1.  Why should you treat the Internet differently from any form of communications, like telephones and the postal system.

Unlike “films and books and so on”, the Internet is, on grand scale, not a broadcast medium. It is more like a conversation between millions of people each day, thus making effective filtering extremely complicated, and well beyond the realm of what the government is proposing. This is why IT experts know the government will have to vastly increase the scope of filtering to have any of the effects they are claiming. This will significantly damage the performance of Australia’s already lacklustre Internet and impose large costs on government and Internet service providers (ISPs) – costs which will no doubt be passed on to taxpayers and consumers.

The government already admits that filtering of massively interactive sites such as Youtube is impossible. In addition, scope increases would have to include the snooping of all private emails and instant messages for example.

2. It doesn’t hit the alleged target, and probably never will.

Illegal materials are in almost all cases (except a tiny fraction of cases – inept ones) transferred by technologies that the proposed filter doesn’t touch, thus making the whole filtering exercise quite pointless. These technologies are constantly changing, and some extremely secure and/or untraceable ones exist and are freely available. Should they ever try to address them, it is unlikely that the government would be able to cope with such rapidly evolving technology that could easily change from one week to the next, or even within a day, to foil any attempt at interception.

3. Any Internet filter can be bypassed by anyone that can click a mouse.

Experts know, and others will quickly learn, that filtering cannot read the internals of encrypted Internet traffic (such as when you use https://… sites), thus there will always be simple ways to get past a filter. The politicians have said that this option will only be available to “IT-savvy” people, but they are being deceitful: you don’t have to be particularly IT literate to click on an icon run a program that someone distributes for free.

4. Encryption renders all filters useless.

It is not currently possible for anyone in the world to crack the form of encryption, called ‘SSL’, used by https:// .. sites and other secure technologies, and it is constantly improved to ensure that remains the case. Even if it did become possible, it would be prohibitively expensive to crack just one web session. SSL is specifically designed to prevent interception (“man-in-the-middle” eavesdropping) because the Internet is considered to be an ‘untrusted network’ with multiple insecure points along the way between your browser, and say, your bank.  Industry relies on the ability of HTTPS to be immune to interception because it is used for banking, e-commerce, and a multitude of other applications that need to do things securely over the Internet. Thus it cannot be banned without completely crippling many industries, and it cannot intercepted.

Encrypted links to overseas relays (sometimes called proxies) would render any conceivable filtering system in Australia completely useless. Such setups can currently be purchased (e.g. VPNs) very cheaply, or set up for free if you have an overseas friend. This method even works to get past China’s mega-expensive catch-all filter.

5. In any case, we shouldn’t trust the government to tell us what we are allowed to see.

The Australian government has a long and undistinguished history of inappropriate censorship. You only have to recall the government’s knee-jerk reaction to the Bill Henson artwork (which was actually classified PG) to see that 50s-style censorship is lurking in the minds of Australia’s top politicians. I don’t rate our government’s ability to determine what is “legitimate use of the Internet”.

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