That filter policy

I’d like to share with you all a letter I sent to my local member who then passed it on to Senator Conroy as it was beyond my members abilities apparently,  it has been passed on but as yet there has been no response after many months so instead I thought I would just put this out there.

Dear Graham,

Thank you for your response, however I am disappointed with some elements. Perhaps you have been mislead as some of your reply appears not to address the facts as far as I can see. I now know your party line but I don’t know how you my member of parliament feels about all this, so I will assume you will support the filter rather than oppose it.

How has the ALP managed to do a direct back flip on this issue when in 2003 the Labor Party opposed filtering at the ISP level?  Labor senator Kate Lundy stated;
“Unfortunately, such a short memory regarding the debate in 1999 about internet content has led the coalition to already offer support for greater censorship by actively considering proposals for unworkable, quick fixes that involve filtering the internet at the ISP level.”

Didn’t I see Kevin Rudd slamming the opposition just this week for such things? There are nine points of reference in your reply I would like to visit and I do apologise for the length of this response but I believe it is warranted to put forward the view I wish you to understand if not support.

1.  “The ability to use online tools effectively”
How can one use a tool to its fullest while it’s being interfered with? In the world of information technology we are always trying to knock down and remove bottlenecks from systems, and the policy of adding a mandatory filter is one giant bottleneck that in the real world will result in poor performance. Take our gateway bridge; why were the manual toll booths removed? To improve traffic flow and performance, and the web or information highway as it used to be called is no different.

Replace the word traffic with data and you have the same thing, and in this case instead of removing the barrier (i.e. toll booths) you are in fact adding one and while you’re at it you want to do a vehicle inspection at the same time.  How can this not slow it down? As Steve Dalby, chief regulatory officer at iiNet, who said filtering the internet at the ISP level, as opposed to installing filtering software on the home computer, was unworkable and would “affect the performance of the network quite significantly”.

2. “The pilot, and the experience of ISPs in many western democracies, shows that ISP level filtering of a defined list of URLs can be delivered with 100 per cent accuracy. It also demonstrated that it can be done with negligible impact on internet speed.”  Sorry but let’s put this into some context, I return to my earlier corollary of the Gateway Bridge. If I was to do a traffic flow test on the bridge using only 0.0625% of its daily traffic would the results say the traffic flowed perfectly and there was no need to remove the toll booths? I dare say they would, but we all know that would not be a true reflection of the case.

According to the International Telecommunication Union as of February 2009 there were 16,926,015 internet users in Australia (79.6% of the population) The figure of 0.0625% I quote above is the ratio of people who took part in the Enex Testlab live trial and consequently some people think using those numbers is folly, since they cannot effectively reflect the case. Statistics experts such as Dr Daniel Johnson at QUT and Professor Ron Hyndman at Monash University have correctly called out this report as being unscientific and extremely flawed.

Enex Testlab’s managing director, Matt Tett although admitting the testing did not comprehensively investigate what effect user load would have on the filters, claims this is not a factor saying;
“The number of participants isn’t necessarily relevant. The load is not relevant, absolutely not. The number of people who are on the filter itself, the number of people on the system and whether they’re being filtered or not, is irrelevant”

A pity the rest of the industry doesn’t share that view, I draw your attention to the warning from Australia’s peak technology group the Systems Administrators Guild of Australia (SAGE-AU) to the Federal Government that any internet filtering laws will fail to work because the technology was only tested on slow broadband services. Ms. Donna Ashelford of SAGE-AU said the report from the Internet filtering trials was unclear about sample sizes, which was vital to understand if its results were statistically significant. “Large numbers of participants would obviously have a greater impact on performance than a smaller number,” she observed.

Ms Ashelford further stated:
“The only widely quoted figure from a test participant was a handful of clients, which did not produce any significant load. Significant sample sizes are essential to understand the effect that Internet filtering may have on service performance. Another concern is that the report admits that ‘a technically competent user, could, if they wished, circumvent the filtering technology’. Anybody who uses Google could find ways to access censored content.” Ms. Ashelford said every filtering solution tested had failed under “heavy traffic” sites on the Internet including YouTube videos already blacklisted by ACMA (the Australian Communications & Media Authority). “The results show that none of the filters coped with widely used technologies such as peer to peer, chat rooms or instant
messaging,” she said. “No false-positive data was provided for ISPs which were only blocking ACMA-prohibited URLs, which was in the terms of reference.”

Indeed the sample group of users in the live pilot was less than 1% as compiled by the participating ISPs, and this is not a representative sample, particularly since some customers complained about over-blocking, and withdrew from the trial. One example was the blocking of the pornography website which is legally accessible in Australia yet somehow made its way onto the AMCA blacklist, I thought this was only meant to be RC material?

While still talking about speed and performance I would like to inform you about an internet phenomenon known as the Slashdot effect; The Slashdot effect, also known as slashdotting, occurs when a popular technology news website links to a smaller site, causing a massive increase in traffic. This overloads the smaller site, causing it to slow down or even temporarily close. The name stems from the huge influx of web traffic that can results from a technology news site linking to other websites.

This is what happens when you try and push too many connections into a smaller pipe that can’t handle the load, Slashdotting is unintentional but there is another form known as a Denial of Service attack and in fact a number of Federal Government websites have fallen victim to these this month as part of ‘Operation Titstorm’ by the group anonymous. Again this is what happens when too many connections are made and the system can’t keep up.

Kind of like the grid lock on the Gateway bridge which the State is so eager to alleviate. By forcing amandatory ISP level filter on the industry you are in fact forcing grid lock into the system, a man made bottleneck for no gain what so ever. Under no load of course the results will say it has no impact, but you throw everyone at it and it will come to a smouldering wreck.  Even Telstra back this up by saying; “As a general rule, there appears to be a relationship between measures to counter deliberate circumvention and impact on internet performance — i.e. stronger circumvention prevention measures can result in greater degradation of internet performance,”  According to the report, Telstra found its filtering solution was not effective in the case of non-web based protocols such as instant messaging, peer-to-peer or chat rooms.

“Enex confirms that this is also the case for all filters presented in the pilot,” the report reads. “Telstra reported that heavy traffic sites could overload its trial filtering solution if included in the filtering blacklist. This is also the case for all filters presented in the pilot.”  Can you see that heavy traffic sites could overload the filtering solution? Think about that for a second, going from ten thousand users in the trial to sixteen million real world users.  Do you think that might be considered heavy traffic?

3.  “In particular our approach has been informed by the constructive input of Australia’s four largest ISPs…”

Why is it none of these were made part of the initial testing and there has been no consultation with them or peak body groups, rather the Federal Government is pushing this on the industry without listening to it.  Case in point Nicholas Power of Highway 1 when asked his stance on ISP level content filtering stated:  “We were one of the unexpected participants of the trial and it was an interesting process. Our intention for participating was to find out more but in reality, this did not eventuate. We found it to be as much of a black box as those people on the outside, who were asking us questions.

The idea that ISPs should police their users is something we are against. As a smaller ISP, we’ve seen the significant cost required just to implement a trial. In the end, I don’t think this is a technical race that can be won.  Optus:  “Optus would rather work with Government to legitimately understand the implications of this type of filtering process, than have it mandated”
Out of the top fourteen ISP’s in Australia only Telstra and iPrimus support the introduction of the filter, and all of them say it’s a waste of time. But even then iPrimus the largest ISP to take part in the trial by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy only support it under duress.

General manager of marketing and products Andrew Sims said while web filtering services suited some families, they should not be made compulsory.   We’ve got instances of that around the world, particularly in China where the government forces filtering upon their population, my professional opinion is I don’t really believe that forced filtering is a good option.”  Then there is iiNet one of the top three ISPs in the country.  in a statement:  As iiNet managing director, Michael Malone, said  “We are not able to reconcile participation in the trial with our corporate social responsibility, our customer
service objectives and our public position on censorship” “It became increasingly clear that the trial was not simply about restricting child pornography or other such illegal material, but a much wider range of issues including what the Government simply describes as ‘unwanted material’ without an explanation of what that includes.”

I have also attached for you a letter to the staff of PIPE Networks from their CEO Bevan Slattery about why they are black listing the trial and filter, it is interesting reading. This policy of mandatory internet filtering does not have the support of the industry nor does it have the popular support of the Australian public.

4. “Introduction of mandatory ISP level filtering of Refused Classification (RC) content in order to reduce therisk of inadvertent exposure”
If that is the case could you please explain to me why when Greens senator Scott Ludlam asked questions related to the trial at the end of 2008, one of the answers the Federal Government provided in January 2009 was that 674 out of 1370 blocked sites on the mandatory list relate to child pornography; 506 sites would be classified as R18+ or X18+, despite the fact that such content is legal to view in Australia. That means that 37% of material on the AMCA blacklist is NOT RC content.

5.  “…can be used to distribute material which is not acceptable to most Australians, particularly children.”
This to me seems more like Senator Conroy’s “unwanted material” then RC content and we have already seen that legal content sites are being blocked on the AMCA list. I wish to point out to you the ranking of some sites in Australia according to Alexa the company for metrics and site rankings worldwide on the internet that are at odds with that statement. All of these sites contain unwanted material according to the Minister’s definition and some even contain RC material but hopefully you will soon realise how absurd it would be to block them;

Ranking 8 – online encyclopaedia, RC material contained as has articles on drug use and euthanasia.
Ranking 25 – film and television site, RC material contained as has reviews and images of RC films.
Ranking 51 – pornography site already blocked by AMCA blacklist even though it is legal.
Ranking 52 – file transfer service, RC material, has patch and game files for RC games.
Ranking 53 – p2p site, Senator Conroy is on the record as wanting to block p2p sites.
Ranking 54 – online magazine, contains RC articles about drug use.
Ranking 57 – pornography site already blocked by AMCA blacklist even though it is legal.
Ranking 58 – pornography site already blocked by AMCA blacklist even though it is legal.
Ranking 62 – online journal, contains RC articles about circumventing copy protection etc.
Ranking 68 – p2p site, Senator Conroy is on the record as wanting to block p2p sites.
Ranking 96 – p2p site, Senator Conroy is on the record as wanting to block p2p sites.

With sixteen million internet users in Australia all of these sites are in the top 100 for the nation, which suggests they are very popular with many people. Do you really think they will support having their access to these sites blocked?

6. “Filtering technologies have been adopted on a voluntary basis by ISPs in a number of countries including the United Kingdom…”
Let’s talk about this one for a moment, the UK uses the IWF blacklist which will form part of the mandatory blacklist used in Australia. In December 2008, hybrid filtering technology implemented by UK providers caused disruption of Wikipedia operations in the UK when a Wikipedia page was added to the IWF watch list. When Wikipedia blocked UK vandals by their IP address, this block affected all users coming from these IP addresses.

As these IP addresses belonged to the filter proxies, some Wikipedia users in the UK, depending on their ISP, attempting to edit an article without a login name were blocked. Some proxies also collapsed under load generated by Wikipedia traffic.  After widespread coverage, the IWF removed the Wikipedia page from its blacklist, citing the availability of the image on other websites as a factor:
“IWF’s overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect … We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users.”  That doesn’t seem all that successful to me, how’s that working for you?

7.  “…URLs of known child abuse material…”
Isn’t this then an issue for law enforcement? If these sites are known, surely any judge can order them taken down and I think you will find the industry would be more than happy to black hole the routes they use. This is like saying we know there are criminals dealing drugs in that suburb’s park but rather then shut them down we’re just going to stop anyone on our beat from using that park instead.
That is nether law enforcement nor prevention.

8. “Enex Testlab, an independent testing laboratory…live pilot…ISPs of varying sizes and their customers”
How can Enex Testlab claim to be independent when they work for no less than thirty Government departments? A negative finding would be akin to biting the hand that feeds you and their lack of
completeness and flawed testing model guaranteed that couldn’t happen. The fact that Telstra’s trial outcome differed quite dramatically makes that plain and Telstra would support a filter if legislated. I would also point out again that only a minute number of ISPs customers took part in the so called live pilot.

9. “…transparency of processes that lead to RC material being placed on the RC content list.”
How can there be any transparency when Senator Conroy has vehemently defended his decision to keep the blacklist contents secret. Even the ISPs in the trial have said they are none the wiser about the process.  How can we trust a Government that banters about terms like “unwanted material” but doesn’t define what that actually means? We know it’s not just RC material, as many legal sites are blocked. Even political parties such as the Australian Sex Party have had their website added to the AMCA list. Why? Because the word sex makes an appearance?

I do not need my Government to tell me what I can and cannot look at, I am quite able to self censor material I do not wish to see and I am more than able to censor material I feel my young children should not be exposed to. There is really no such thing as inadvertent exposure, it’s a myth. No one accidently ends up at a porn or RC website; they have to knowingly follow a link, etc. In over 15 years of being on the net I can honestly say I have also never seen or come across child pornography, they doesn’t exactly advertise this criminal behavior and I day say they don’t even use the http protocol which is the only protocol the filters block.

Finally I would like to end with the UN Charter of which Australia is a founding member having signed it on 1st of November 1945.
Article 19, a Fundamental Declaration of the UDHR, concerns the Individual, and states:  Every Individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold
opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The internet is just a new frontier. Has Australia forgotten its UN Charter responsibilities?

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