Sunday, February 08, 2009

CleanFeed: Rudd and Conroy afraid of Christian Right?

When I first started writing a post on this topic 5 or 6 months ago it was largely a technical detail-based doc that sought to expose the depth of absurdity that Senator Conroy and the Rudd Labor government should pursue this internet filtering policy so fervently, but three to four thousand words later I’d barely scratched the surface on why CleanFeed just won’t work, and why it is ridiculous that the government try and push it through regardless. I still think this topic needs addressing, but I’ve started afresh, and kept it brief...

In the interests of keeping this short the areas I wanted to address are: content and censorship standards, practical outcomes, and motivation.

CleanFeed is being promoted on the basis of ‘reducing child abuse’, that children need to be protected from access to images of child abuse on the internet, but the level of restriction of content is to be on-par with computer games – this is tighter regulation than film and television. This MA15+ standard is a far cry from ‘stopping child abuse’, it’s an attack on the very spirit of the internet.

The chance of present technologies delivering the intended result is next to zero. Closed trials (you know, a controlled environment free of real world variables to see the potential capabilities of the technology) revealed the 6 candidate filter products weren’t even close to being able, with problems such as: inaccuracies in filtering (filtering large number of safe sites, missing targeted sites), and massive speed reduction (upto 80% reduction in speed – not desirable in Australia’s second-rate internet). The other problems with ISP-level filtering are that it is does nothing to prevent net predators and bullies, and is no substitute for appropriate supervision of children using the internet, but by having this super-duper infrastructure-level piece of protection it gives parents a false sense of security.

Also worthy of note is that the poor results in closed trial were obtained by filtering only HTTP and HTTPS protocols, leaving the other 60% percent of the internet traffic either unfiltered or totally blocked, Senator Conroy has since announced that the final product could include filtering for bittorrent and other p2p protocols. Closed trials were a dismal failure when attempting to filter only a small portion of total traffic - why does the government think they can get it right in real world implementation? One theory is that proposed upgrade national broadband infrastructure will speed-up the internet so that an 80% performance hit will be unnoticeable, this is just all kinds of wrong...

Political censorship has been mentioned in connection with CleanFeed... we have sedition laws, is political censorship such a stretch? Iceland's internet filter features censorship of an outspoken critics, although one in particular did name his website the Icelandic word for Child Pornography, it features no images of children - only articles and links relating to censorship in Iceland. For the Federal government to impose CleanFeed on Australia they need to convince the Greens and independents in the Senate to pass legislation. Family First's Steve Fielding is the only one supporting it at the moment (is that a surprise?). Senator Xenaphon has suggested that if the government add Internet Gambling to material blocked then he would support CleanFeed, it's not radical censorship to serve the interests of powerful lobby groups says the government, but a deal with each Senator to get the legislation through is OK... I wonder what Bob Brown would sell his soul for?

CleanFeed sounds all honourable and impressive, but is just smoke and mirrors – it has no positive outcomes other than giving the impression that the government are doing something serious about questionable problem – who has ever accidentally stumbled onto a Child Pornography site? In fact, who has ever seen Child Pornography? As the government says that we have to protect children from stumbling onto depictions of child abuse. Stopping child abuse is a well worthwhile endeavour, but to use the emotive responses that the topic of child abuse produces to justify such an absurd project is not OK. If the government is determined to waste money on ridiculous bullshit, they could give the money to me – my trivial amusements don’t screw-up the internet... well not to the same extent.

So why push CleanFeed? A good question without a good answer. The Christian Right are one of the few groups pushing as hard as the government, and in the last month or so it has become apparent that similar other countries, as well as governments, are interested in the outcomes here. The one thing that is clear is the average Australians aren’t screaming out “please mess-up our internet”. So the question remains; with the federal government trying to rollout better internet infrastructure, why impose such a flawed idea on Australian internet?
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