Internet filtering - what a joke

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jethro's picture

Its happened. Labours new minister for the idiots - I mean Internet, has advised that they will be supporting mandatory ISP filtering - supposedly to protect children from pornography. Download their "plan for cyber safety". The plan starts of talking about the need to educate and a combined approach by parents and teachers - sounds good. How do they plan to do this? By providing a mandatory clean feed. What the heck is that?

Lachlan Heyward from the Herald Sun writes:

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said everything possible had to be done to shield children from violent and pornographic online material.

"We have always argued more needs to be done to protect children," he said.

Senator Conroy said the clean feed, also known as mandatory ISP filtering, would prevent users accessing prohibited content.

"We will work with the industry to get the best policy. (But) Labor is committed to introducing mandatory ISP filtering."

Senator Conroy said the Australian Communications and Media Authority would prepare a blacklist of unsuitable sites.

What a lot of baloney.

Walk into any news agency and check the R rated and explicit material readily available for kids to view - if not purchase.

Commentary is already hitting the net about the stupidity of this sort of statement from the (poorly advised) Minister. I don't know who his technical sources are, but they should be exposed for the idiots they are. Any body with half a technical brain understands that there are two basic things that have to happen to make this work.

A list of "objectionable content" has to be developed and maintained, and the technical capacity to block content against this list has to be able to be demonstrated to work.

Starting with the first we talk about black lists and white lists. Black lists are the sites that we are not allowed to view. Now physically it is impossible for any human or group of humans to ever be able to create let alone maintain such a list. Therefore computers are used, and dictionaries of "bad words" etc are created. This is not perfect for two reasons, First of all "bad" content may still slip through. Second of all "good" content may be blocked. Thus a whitelist is created, of sites that are blocked, but shouldn't be. So sites discussing breastfeeding, sexual abuse trauma management, rape counselling, clinical websites discussing sexually transmitted diseases and the like would all be blocked because of their clinical use of words that would be on "bad lists". Potentially sites discussing movies, art and literature, current affairs etc could all be blocked. Whitelists are designed to allow these in. So thus we move to the real problem with this sort of heuristic filtering, and that is who controls it. According to the statement by the honourable military dictator minister this will be the Australian Communications and Media Authority. So now we are back to humans managing this.

it won't work. Full stop.

Part two. We need a technical method of actually using this database of good and bad sites.

On the surface this sounds very simple. In reality its almost impossible to create such a system at all, let alone make it flexible enough to grow and change as people find a way around it.

Imagine a large park - say 100 metres long by 100 metres wide. Now say that half of this park is full of prickles, and the council wants to stop people going there so they wont get hurt. They decide to build a wall. (Anybody remember Berlin?)

The first bad assumption is that everybody is wearing bare feet. Hullo - people with shoes on won't get hurt. Some people might even want to study the prickles so as to work out how to stop them spreading.

The second bad assumption is that the prickles are not evenly disbursed but all congregated on one side so we can easily build a wall down the middle dividing the prickle side from the non prickle side. The main problem with this is the blacklist / whitelist issue discussed above.

The third bad assumption is that no one will approach the park from the prickle side and thus not even be confronted by the wall.

The fourth bad assumption is that the prickles wont have their seeds spread by birds into the non prickle side and grow up quite happily in the "safe" area.

I could go on but there's no point. These bad assumptions are enough to sink any credibility any council would have over proposing such a bad prickle management solution.

The Australian Government is too stupid to talk about if they proceed down this path.

How would a filter work? To answer that we need to understand how the Internet actually works. Internet content in Australia comes from one of 2 places. Inside Australia or outside. Internal traffic can be delivered using the telecom backbones inside the country and could be filtered by ISPs internally. External traffic physically comes into the country in only a few undersea cables. Theoretically we could filter that data at the point of entry. However to do that would need a connection to the database containing the good / bad sites, and every page request would need to be checked against that database. The very reason the Internet was originally created would be broken right there. The Internet was created by the US Military to provide a re-routable command control system that was not reliant on any single central point, but could reroute itself through numerous nodes, potentially too many for any one enemy to destroy them all.

Slowing all traffic down to filter through a single database. or even a bunch of databases synchronised regularly would make the Internet slower than it already is in Australia.

The internet is designed to be flexible. As soon as a wall is put up, people find a way around it. As soon as an encryption is developed, people crack it. As soon as a company blocks a site like facebook from being used in their organisation, a company comes out with a product like modazzle that is designed to allow you to interact with facebook using email. What's stopping porn websites from doing the same thing? Nothing. Proxy servers are designed to allow anonymous surfing and disguise the actual address being viewed. Technically the address is also a number. The url can be converted to a binary number that can be surfed to using the binary code which no ISP is ever going to block!

Content can be delivered in other ways, using various methods including piggybacking on legitimate content etc. Not filtering system is ever going to work. Labor get real!


Educate not censor.


See my previous article about The Internet, Pornograpy, Filters and Sexual Predators.