Optus has broken ranks with the majority of Internet providers and declared it will take part in Stephen Conroy‘s internet filtering trial. What Conroy wants to do sound svery simple: based on a massive blacklist he wants to force ISPs through legislation to filter out sites that contain child pornography. On the surface that sounds technically feasible and morally defensible. Anyone in the IT industry though with an understanding of how filtering technology works says that this scheme will not work; instead instead it will cause major problems for innocent individuals (and that has happened already) and businesses, overall internet traffic speeds in Australia and it raises free speech concerns.
Optus participation will lend credibility not just to the trial but also to the flawed concept of internet filtering. Optus customers therefore should choose to opt out of the trial, and here are the reasons why:
- For starters, filtering adds an overlay of complexity that will adversely affect Australia’s already slow internet. Already now we are behind many other countries in terms of our internet speed, and further brakes will cause even more problems for business and consumers alike.
- Filtering will not protect children. All it does is to stop people from accessing illegal content that is directly served through web pages. It does not stop traffic through FTP (transfer between individual computers), SMTP (email), peer-to-peer networks, instant messaging applications (like ICQ, Skype, AIM, Microsoft Messenger) or chatrooms (IRC) that can be created and disbanded instantly.
- There is also a workaround for someone who wants to access webpages: set up a proxy and bingo, you’ll get through. A proxy is a legal website through which you can channel your a illegal content because that legal site is not on the blacklist; therefore the illegal content won’t be picked up by the filters. Is it difficult to find a proxy server? No, people just need to google on ‘free proxies’ and they’ll find hundreds of them.
- Blacklists are tools of censorship – that’s obvious. Using them means going into shady territory: who controls those lists? Who updates them and how? Who oversees the blacklist gate keepers and the censors?
- Free speech: censorship is dangerous because it directly affects our right to free speech. Where is the line in the sand? Now it is child pornography; will it also be euthanasia (which by law can’t be discussed online)? What will be the next topic? It only takes a small band of advocates fighting for some obscure cause and a populist politician amongst them, and in no time the list will be extended to include artisitc expressions, topics that the government might unilaterally deem not to be in the public interest or even Israel labelling critical reflections on its human rights record as anti-semitic and the government being politically expedient. Once you have censorship, the door is flung wide open to abuse – history has shown that again and again.
So let’s stop the dangerous and unworkable Conroy non-nonsense. Opt out of the Optus trial!
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