25 January 2010

The Great Australian Internet Blackout

This blog is supporting The Great Australian Internet Blackout.

From the link: "The Great Australian Internet Blackout is a combined online and offline demonstration against imposed online censorship. We’re collaborating with Electronic Frontiers Australia to make sure every Australian knows why this draconian policy is unacceptable."

This blog will be in a black theme throughout the protest, until 29 January 2010.

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During a recent GetUp campaign against ISP-level internet filtering, I wrote the following email to Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Communications, and a slightly reworded version to the Shadow Minister, Tony Smith. Feel free to use it as a template, or visit the GetUp web site for more information:

Subject: Withdraw the government's plans for mandatory censorship of the internet

Dear Senator Conroy,

I am outraged at the government's continued efforts to impose a mandatory ISP-level filter on internet content.

I spent six years conducting research into computer security for the Department of Defence, and in my expert opinion, I do not believe that either a blacklist or a filter is an appropriate or effective measure, let alone both together. Both measures have unacceptable levels of false-positives and false-negatives, meaning that valid content will be blocked and restricted content will still be viewable. It is technically impossible to get the balance right, and it is also impossible to perform this filtering without a serious degradation of performance. Software to circumvent both blacklisting and filtering is already readily available.

Furthermore, I simply do not believe that it is the government's role to decide what content is appropriate or inappropriate for Australians to be allowed to view. The argument for child welfare does nothing either to explain or excuse a blanket ban on non-approved content that also affects law-abiding adults. Many child welfare groups also disagree with this scheme.

There is a question of trust that has simply not been addressed. The government's public consultation process simply omits the question of whether to have a mandatory restriction, as if this had already been decided and that the politics are being fixed around this decision. True to form, the government reserves the right not to publish submissions to this supposedly public process. There is nothing to suggest that a blacklist or content filter would not be expanded in the future - to block dissenting political voices or to expose government secrecy, for example - without any form of public consultation.

This scheme is not without viable alternatives either. A far more workable solution would be for parents to monitor their children's on-line behaviour and to protect them from explicit content as they see fit. A recent Galaxy poll states that 86% of Australians would prefer a parent to be deciding on what children should be allowed to do on-line. A current poll on the Sydney Morning Herald web site shows that 95% of Australians oppose a mandatory filter (13822 votes at the time of writing). Yet, the government continues to strive against the public interest.

We in Australia often criticise countries such as China and Iran, citing restrictions on internet use as evidence of government oppression. The fact that Australia is considering comparable measures means we have no moral ground in this argument. The scheme is unfair, opaque and unworkable.

Senator, I urge the government to withdraw this scheme immediately.

Yours sincerely,

Aaron Nielsen

Adelaide, South Australia

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