Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Australian Big Brother

Ever since Labor has won Australia’s federal elections last year and some time before that took place, the now Minister of Communication Stephen Conroy has been promoting his plan for mandatory internet censorship in Australia. Essentially, the guy wants to filter all illegal internet material from all Australian internet users.
Rumors say this motion has been set in place because of Labor’s need to appease a couple of independents. Regardless, Conroy’s plan is so ridiculously stupid it makes me boil inside whenever I hear about it or think about it. I will therefore specify my reasons for being so vehemently against it:

1. Civil liberties:
Originally, the offer was raised in order to provide a way to prevent paedophilic material from circling around. Fine; no one in their right mind wants that. Then, however, we’ve learnt that euthanasia is going to be added to the list of banned stuff, which made me ask – hey there, what is so wrong with euthanasia that people can’t even check it out to make their minds about it through the internet? It’s not like kids are being abused to satisfy someone's curiosity.
Then we were informed that the government is going to maintain a list of banned stuff and that this list will not be open to the public.
If the above doesn’t sound Orwellian to you I can’t think what will; this doesn’t sound to me like Australia, it sounds more like the darkest regimes in history.
Where would the censorship stop? Will I be able to read Wikipedia’s page on euthanasia to see for myself what is so evil about it? Will I be able to access my Arsenal football team supporters’ website if some Manchester United supporter is sitting at the helm of the censorship wheel?
The question to be asked here is simple: Why do Australians need to be protected from themselves? We are not talking about blocking kids from accessing porn here, we’re talking much deeper stuff.

2. Effectiveness:
If anyone is toying with the idea that internet blocking at the ISP level is going to be effective then they don’t belong in this century.
For a start, Conroy’s proposed enforcement cannot deal with peer-to-peer communications, where most illegal downloads dwell and where 60% of the overall internet communication is. I am very glad that is the case because of what I think of our existing copyright legislation, but regardless – there goes the bulk of the justification Conroy might have had for his proposal.
Second, bypassing content filtering at the ISP level is so easy any moron can do it. Even I can do it, so here’s a short ignorance fighting tutorial –
You can access most web pages through a web proxy that replaces your ISP’s. If you don’t understand that last sentence don’t worry; the point is that you will be able to surf the internet as if you’re on another planet and not in dark ages’ Australia. You can find an example for such a web proxy here. Oops, didn’t think of something: Are web proxies going to find themselves added to Conroy’s secret list of banned sites?
An alternative bypassing technique to the web proxies is establishing a secure VPN connection, which – in plain English – means everyone would think you’re using the internet in another country. Say, the USA, the literal Land of the Free if Conroy gets his way. Windows users can find their way to secure VPN facilities here and here, while Linux users can find them here.
The bottom line is that it is very obvious any budding paedophile will be able to bypass Conroy’s Berlin Wall and get his/her way. The alternative of an escalating war where more and more websites are blacklisted is just not feasible; there are enough free minds out there to help all Australians get their way over the internet.

3. The damage bill:
Then there is the price we have to pay to implement Conroy’s Big Brother is watching you plan. That would take computers looking at everything coming down from the internet and comparing those with the databases for illegal material, which means a significant cost of maintaining the infrastructure to do so as well as lots of greenhouse emissions we can all do without. We, Mr and Ms Tax Payer, will be footing the bill.
There’s more to it, though. Tests conducted so far by ISPs indicate performance times are hurt by about 80% - that is, Australia’s already slow internet performance, due to adequate infrastructure, is going to be twice as slow!
And what for? So some paedophile would have to access the stuff that turns them on through a web proxy?
Or do we need it so that Conroy could feel like the man he isn’t because in his quest for power he forgot to bring his brain along for the ride?

At the end of the day there are two questions to ask.
The first is what are the chances of Conroy getting away with his senseless act? Well, Labor could face a tall task there because the Greens are against it and they'll need some minor party's consent in order to pass the bill. Then again, there are enough parties out there with policies as sophisticated as “we'll lower gas prices at the pump”, and I'm talking about Family First in particular, which are highly likely to jump on the pretentious bandwagon to show their support for the so called family values they stand for.
The second question is what can we do about it, as in how can we change things so that politicians serve the people instead of their narrow self interests. I don't have a conclusive answer here; I doubt anyone has a conclusive answer and I suspect it is exactly this lack of a conclusive answer that get people like Obama elected. Personally, I'm thinking more and more about taking the plunge and joining the Greens.

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