Part 1 - the decisive battle was yesterday
You will have heard that the Australian Government has shelved it's
plans to introduce a mandatory "Great Firewall", and that while an
Independent review proceeds certain ISPs will voluntarily block a
short list of undeniably vile child pornography URLs.
This is not good news.
I worked in the filtering industry for six years. I was a senior
engineer at a company that sold network-level filters to schools
and businesses, one of the companies that whispered poison in Conroy's ear
while the current government was in opposition, having failed to sell
the idea to then-minister Coonan. I maintained my then-employer's
copy of the Secret Blacklist, updating it weekly with the latest
additions (almost never removals) from ACMA.
The Biggest asset that anti-censorship campaigners have had is that
the ISPs in general did not want be censors. They couldn't be arsed
being the government's stooge, it gets in the way of rampant profit.
The ISPs have maintained that filtering web traffic is in fact
technically impossible, and that any attempt to achieve it would
hopelessly degrade internet experience to third-world levels.
(The argument of impossibility has always been a little bit bullshit,
since cheapskate ISPs are happy to deploy caching transparent proxies
to save money, and in reality a practical caching proxy is only a
tiny tweak away from a filter.)
As for the performance issue, its my experience from actually
writing code to filter web traffic that the further you put the
filter from the users, the slower and less effective it is.
Households that want a filtered feed should seek firewall or
local-loop provider solutions.
For the biggest top-tier ISPs in the country to suddenly announce they will
"Voluntarily" filter a list of child-abuse sites represents a massive
about-face on their part. I can only wonder what sort of leverage the government
has exercised to force this concession.
I'm dismayed by this "victory" on filtering because:
- its an attempt to avoid having censorship debate during the election
- paradoxically, after the election, whichever party wins can claim a
"mandate" to implement their version
- if the ISPs can filter a list of hundreds of sites successfully, then the
infrastructure is already in place for them to be later compelled to filter
- worst, the users who will be "consulted" on whether the filtering has
an "acceptable impact" are going to be Telstra and Optus customers(!) I'm not
sure the undiscriminating dopes who put up with Big Telco service
would know a millisecond from a millipede. I expect some grandma from Dubbo
whose Windows95 box and 33k6 modem are just as "snappy"
as ever will be "proof" that the filter "works fine".
So don't treat a "review" as anything but a sneak-attack, and do keep this issue hot during the election.
Next post I want to talk about my assessment of the arguments for and
against the filter, and after that examine the technical issues of
actually implementing it, and share some of my experiences from my years
in the filtering industry.