Censorship Down Under

The Australian government is coming under scrutiny as it has announced plans for a nation wide internet filter that would censor sites for the entire country in effect putting it in the same ranks as China, Iran, Cuba, and North Korea.

Here is the report on the initial tests carried out earlier this year.

While there is censorship in place now it has been stated:

Australia’s laws on Internet censorship are, theoretically, amongst the most restrictive in the Western world. However, the restrictive nature of the laws has been combined with almost complete lack of interest in enforcement from the agencies responsible . [src]

With this renewed interest in censorship and the want to establish a nationwide filter I have a few questions that I feel should be asked and answers made public and accessible (written to a level that everyone can understand and made available to everyone through an effort by the government) before this is established.

1) What is the goal and what is the end result the government is hoping to achieve by establishing nationwide censorship? Does the ends (a safer population) justify the means ($44.2 million dollars)? How are they going to measure the effectiveness of this? Have they done any research in this area? If so, who performed it and what were their findings? If not what are they basing this idea on?

2) Who determines what is to be censored? What right do they have to determine it? And by whose standards are they doing so?

3) Have they really determined the effectiveness of the software? What sites get accidentally caught in the crossfire? Is there a way to tell when you’ve been blacklisted? Is there any way to fight being blacklisted?

It has been mentioned that they want to block things like access to pro-anorexia groups, but does the software have the intelligence to tell the difference from a pro-ani group and a support group for those who have suffered through anorexia? Or does it just search out the term ‘anorexia’ and ban any access to it?

# All filters tested had problems with under-blocking, allowing access to between 2% and 13% of material that they should have blocked; and
# All filters tested had serious problems with over-blocking, wrongly blocking access to between 1.3% and 7.8% of the websites tested. [src]

4) How does this effect social networking sites where the content on the site is user generated? Consider YouTube videos, Livejournal communities, MySpace pages, Facebook, as well as dating sites.

5) Will this have any affect on gaming such as MMOs or services like Xbox Live or Playstation Online?

6) Unsure as to how they will actually implement this have they assessed the costs of not only establishing it, but supporting it and upgrading it over the years? By how much will access to the net be slowed down due to this filtering put in place and is it worth it?

# One filter caused a 22% drop in speed even when it was *not* performing filtering;
# Only one of the six filters had an acceptable level of performance (a drop of 2% in a laboratory trial), the others causing drops in speed of between 21% and 86%;
# The most accurate filters were often the slowest [src]

Who ultimately suffers here and is that the intended target? I just don’t see any good that comes of censorship unless you option to do so for yourself. I can see why families may want a ‘clean feed’ but they should be the ones to establish that for themselves through the use of their own filters software and hardware to do so. If the government has a burning need to use all that money why don’t they offer vouchers or something to that effect for those families who wish to participate? I understand that there is a split level in filtering and the only one that is nationwide is the illegal content filter, however, even in that respect it doesn’t seem feasible to be able to provide the hardware, software and man hours necessary to keep up with the sites especially when it comes at such a high bandwidth performance cost.

This is something I intend to keep up with in the coming months to see what comes of it. If it wasn’t so far away, I’d petition to do research for them as part of my practicum.

For more information from an Australian point of view check out the EFA site.