Australian Internet Censorship In Practice

I have previously blogged about the The Great Australian Firewall, which is currently in its testing phase for manadatory internet filtering under the direction and control of the Australian Government (specifically ACMA). In the past few days, things have taken an alarming turn for the worse. I’m going to be slightly vague on some details for my own protection, as I don’t want to risk being the recepient a $11,000 fine and criminal record thanks to the AFP. So I’m only going to point towards public news sources that are reporting the details about this.

The Government, in its new initiative to become the world’s leading Nanny State, has decided that it is their right and duty to tell us what we can and cannot think, say and see on the Internet and other media. And remember kids, these people mostly live in Canberra, the most boring city in the world. Need I say more?

What has happened recently? (Historically? See here). Well ..

  • Bulletproof Networks hosts the very popular Internet forum, ACMA don’t like Whirlpool, particularly as a lot of discussion about Australian ISPs performance and their views on Internet Censorship, happens on there. A user posted a link to an anti-abortion website which apparently is on ACMAs blacklist. Bulletproof was immediately issued with a takedown notice and a threat of being fined $11,000 per day. Out of the blue of course, because ACMA’s blacklist is kept secret. More information reported in The Australian newspaper
  • Somewhere on the Internet, somebody has posted Denmark’s blacklist. Someone else submitted a link to ACMA aiming to highlight the futility of maintaining a secret blacklist. ACMA responded by blocking access to that website, and their press release about it. US Tech Blog Wired takes up the story.

“ACMA is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution.”

  • Coincedentally, whistleblower website, WikiLeaks, has been inaccessible from a number of Australian locations today. Not one to draw conclusions, but they are quoted in The Australian:

While Wikileaks is used to exposing secret government censorship in developing countries, we now find Australia acting like a democratic backwater. History shows that secret censorship systems, whatever their original intent, are invariably corrupted into anti-democratic behavior

Chief Censor Sentator Conroy has aleady admitted his fitering scheme will be used to block legal material as well as illegal material (you know, the kind of stuff you can buy on the top shelves of newsagents – except if you live near a mining site, then its right by the cash register instead). The initial law was strictly to block illegal material such as Child Pr0n* and material that incites terrorism and other evil stuff like that. However now the somebody-please-think-of-the-children thought police have got their way and this has been expanded to “inappropriate” sites … legal gambing sites for example, like, are apparently on the blacklist. Of course, it would not suprise me if the Aussie equivelent of the RIAA, the ARIA, and the MPAA are fevereshly lobbying their cause, persuading Conroy to block peer-to-peer technologies in this filter, fresh on their success in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, the fact that the Nanny State forgets is that as soon as you make something illegal, all that happens is its driven underground. Techologies already exist that will bypass such censorship. Look at drug smuggling which is rife thoughout the world and mostly illegal. Even worse, they also make it more difficult for the authorites to locate and capture the bastards involved in activities such as terrorism and child pr0nography.

My previous position, that this funding should be diverted to the AFP and international legal authorities to track down, capture and castrate (no anasthetic)  people involved in these dispicable acts and then lock them up for life, still stands.

Restricting debate and enforcing your views through legal means on others in a Nanny State solution only drives the problem further underground. More debate here, and here, and here … while we still can. Enters The Digital Age – not!

Most of you know I work in the Information Security area. You probably also know I am passionate about Australia. However, this post is not about the technical ineffectiveness of the technologies that have been proposed (which I will write later). This is more about the method in which the Australian Government is pursuing the implementation of those ineffective technologies. Yet another example of Australia – The Nanny State (funnily enough, which is the complete opposite of the culture of the Australian People).

For those of you who don’t know (and, given the lack of reporting in the mainstream media about the subject, I wouldn’t be suprised), the Australian Government is currently undergoing trials to enforce filtering of “illegal and objectionable material” at the Australian ISP level. What does this mean in practice? They want to filter your internet access using methods that just don’t work, just like the governments of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and many others do – but without the people to validate what is being filtered properly.

Remember, this is the same population of civil “servents” that has made it illegal for you, the Australian citizen, to purchase fireworks without having to physically travel to Canberra. Which, of course, is punishment in itself.

The policy will be enforced by two levels of blacklists – one of which is mandatory for all internet connections, the other is an “opt out” for those who need their fix of “restricted’ online porn, up to R18 level. However, even the Government’s own trials have shown a shockingly high false-positive rate, which means that the filters have incorrectly filtered innocent information even using the deep-packet-inspection technology that is quite advanced compared to the URL-and-IP-address-blocking that you are used to when trying to get to Facebook from your work desk (and you already know how to get around that, don’t you?)

ACMA have not detailed the governence around this “solution”. And where does it stop? What will stop Big Media (the Music and Movie industries) from lobbying – hard – to block all technologies used to distribute files online, because they *might* be used to distribute Rhianna’s latest album? (Hint: get the videos instead, she is gorgeous).  What else will they add? Any websites or people critical of Government policies, similar to the Freedom Fries debacle of the US Government when France refused, correctly I might add, to support the invasion of Iraq based upon failed intelligence about WMDs? Given the Australian Government’s useless performance at yesterdays climate change talks, I wouldn’t be suprised that most environmental groups suddenly have their websites filtered due to lobbying by the Resources sector.

I tried to make an argument on the government’s consultation blog about this, but must admit I got into one of my infamous rants that also included Telstra’s ablility to slow down the information economy. But I was also happy to see that many other Australians have found the blog and submitted similar messages. Many more have also signed petitions and will be attending protests in each Australian Capital tomorrow (Saturday).

Prime Minister Rudd, I voted for you because I thought you would bring much-needed change to Australia. The Apology, and signing Kyoto were very good starts. But your Government’s recent actions – the lack of them in particular with regards to Climate Change, the lack of action against the Japanese slaughter of whales in Australian oceans, and of course the Great Australian Firewall – is starting to make me think that the other lot wern’t so bad after all. It is true that Australians do NOT have any freedom of speech protections – something I think you should fix and protect our freedoms just like every other democracy. As a fellow Queenslander I don’t want to stop supporting you, but you are making that a difficult position to maintain.

BTW – With regards to the Child Porn issue. I do not condone this. I would happily work with the Australian Government (contact me) on addressing this issue. My personal view is to set up a dedicated unit in the AFP (or similar) tackling this issue, to monitor, gather evidence, capture and prosecute each and every single cretin who is involved with this. I alledge (got that lawyers, I alledge – I don’t have proof!) you guys already have the technologies to do this, and in fact are already doing this, (example here), for National Security interests. Why not leverage the same technologies, resources and do something similar in the non-classified environment?

Back to the Child Pornogrophers … once these bastards are found guilty in a court of law, based upon the evidence collected asbove, I propose they are castrated – without anasthetic any medical support – using blunt, rusted, metal knives and left to rot in a cell. That is the minimum punishment that these sick bastards deserve. Lets stop this problem at the source.