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Cheers - AE

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Net nannying and censorship - the same fucking thing actually.

As I mentioned yesterday Senator Conroy appeared on The 7pm Project this evening to justify the Great Firewall of Australia, his pet ISP level internet filtering project. Now obviously in the short term this is only going to affect people living in Australia, and if you reading this from somewhere else and are confidant that your politicians respect liberty on or offline then you can skip the rest of this - it doesn't apply to you, you lucky soul. If you're not so sure about the liberty thing - and if you're in Britain then news like this and this suggests that you bloody well shouldn't be - then bear in mind that you may be next, and watch out for a politician giving an interview not unlike this.

So how did Conroy do? How did The 7pm Project do? Did they give Conroy an easy time of it? And most importantly of all am I sold on the filter? Not bloody likely. Please bear with me while I fisk this fuckwit, which unfortunately won't be brief since the very first question Conroy was asked - the very first - he ducked.

Charlie Pickering: 'Now, first thing's first, will this filter stop Aussie kids from accessing X-rated adult material, which is probably what most parents are worried about, on the internet?'
Conroy, being a politician, promptly answered a different question that had not actually been asked.
Senator Conroy: 'This filter is only designed to block web pages which are defined under the classification processes as Refused Classification. That's child pornography, pro-bestiality sites, pro-rape websites and material like that.'
Nicely ducked. The answer he was actually looking for would be something along the lines of 'No, Charlie, it can't stop kids accessing adult material. That is the responsibility of parents'. Conroy then went on to clarify that the filter would block only RC material, that is material which is already banned in Australia and can't be seen at the movies, on DVD, in books, or hosted on Australian websites. Are you sure about that, Stephen? Because one of the concerns I had when I first blogged about this more than a year ago was that the phrase "illegal and inappropriate content" being used here and there - one of your own press releases for example - and I wanted to know if that meant that legal content that was deemed inappropriate would be blocked as well as illegal content, and also who the fuck decides what's inappropriate anyway. Since that in that PR you say (my emphasis):
'Filtering specifically against a black-list of illegal content as well as the ability to filter additional material will be one part of the upcoming pilot trial.'
I think it's fair to ask if you will also filter legal content that you don't like. But okay, let's assume for now that your government really will just stick to RC stuff. That leads to the next question about what effect the filter would actually have on restricting the availability of child porn on the web in Australia. Again, the answer to that was for a totally different and unasked question:
'Well, there are a number of complete misrepresentations in that opening package.'
Er, Stephen? He didn't fucking ask you how accurate the intro film was. He asked what effect the filter would have on the availability of child porn. Stay awake. And 'package'? Oh, never mind. Call it a package if you want to.
'The first was that it's not generally on the internet. That's not true.'
It's not strictly what was said either. The point being made was that the majority of muck the nonces are distributing among themselves is done via P2P networking, and that this will bypass the filter anyway. I presume you were conceding this very point in March last year when you admitted that this won't stop child porn.

Sorry for interrupting, Steve, do go on.
Sen. Conroy: 'There are currently today 355 websites that are banned because they are websites on the public internet that show child pornography.'

Charlie Pickering: 'But there are millions and millions of sites on the internet, Senator Conroy, that's not a huge number.'
Took the words right out of my mouth, except that I'd have said billions. In fact even if that linked article is out by a factor of ten then the odds of randomly stumbling across one of those 355 sites are more than 283 million to one, hugely more remote than, say for example, getting struck by lightning and probably much more remote than being hit by lighting while holding a winning lottery ticket. For it to happen once would be massively, massively unfortunate, and almost everyone would simply navigate away or call the cops or both. For it to happen more than once, or for someone to stick around once they'd got to one of these 355 sites? Almost certainly they'd have to be looking for it, and if they're doing that in the presence of a filter then they'll almost certainly be taking steps to bypass the damn thing anyway.

The questions then swung around to the fact, which Conroy didn't dispute, that the filter doesn't affect peer-to-peer and that this is the preferred means for nonces to swap their porn. Credit to Conroy here, he did actually answer the question put to him by saying that they'd never claimed the filter would stop P2P but there are other means of monitoring that. For a moment at this point I thought that Charlie Pickering was going to ask why, if the desire is to stop child porn (among other things), most of which is spread by P2P and according to Conroy is being tackled by other means, why have the bloody filter at all. Perhaps he was but he allowed Conroy to get a verbal wedge in and begin to repeat his first answer. The guest panellist (or whatever), whose name I've forgotten, did get that question out... sort of.
'If it's banned already what's the point of the filter.'
This let Conroy off the hook somewhat since he was able to say quite truthfully that the problem was websites outside of Australia's territory. Well, duh, Steve. Obviously you don't control websites in the rest of the world, and I bet you were relieved that you were able to say so rather than be hit with more questions about the amount of web hosted material you're going to stop with the filter versus the amount spread via P2P which the filter won't touch, and what each is costing us in actual dollars. And potential liberty.

It fell to Dave Hughes, a stand up comedian for Christ's sake, to bring up the point about the government's secretive attitude towards what gets blocked.
Dave Hughes: 'So you're gonna ban websites and, and...'

Senator Conroy: 'Individual pages within websites that contain this...'

Dave Hughes: 'Alright. But you won't tell us which ones you're banning so I mean ... how can we trust you as a government that you're not influencing it for your own good?'
Thank fuck for that. I was beginning to think this wouldn't get raised at all. But even though Dave Hughes brought it up he didn't ask the second part: even if this government can be trusted what is guaranteeing that no future government can abuse it? Because as far as I can tell it's fuck all. Conroy's response was, not surprisingly, a mix of evasion and emotion with a dash of logic and illogic in equal measure.
'This is probably the most complex of the issues that we face.'
That's one way of looking at it, Stephen. The other is that it's very simple: how can we trust not just your government but all future governments? Because once the ability is there a future government could add websites of opposition parties or supporters to the blacklist. To put it another way, I've called you some unpleasant names on this blog, Senator Conroy, but if I'm still blogging in twenty years and being similarly rude about the Communications Minister of 2030 how do I know that this blog will still be accessible inside Australia? On that basis should I call him/her a cunt now while I still can? I realise the Communications Minister of 2030 might still be at school and calling them a cunt on my blog is a little unfair whatever they're doing, but at the moment I don't know if I'll be able do so at a more reasonable time. See the problem?

Anyway, go on, Steve.
'The difference between putting up a list of titles of movies that are Refused Classification is you don't provide access to them.'
Yes, understood, but how hard is it to burn a copy of Wombat Felching in the Outback and print a Sound of Music label on the disc and box cover before mailing it off to some fellow sick marsupial fetishist? How would you know if it happens? Don't think that just because it's not being shown at the fucking Crown means you've prevented all access because you haven't. You've just made it more difficult.

Sorry, you were saying?
'If I list the 355 child pornography websites, that's an address of where to go and see them.'
Now this is a good point and admittedly it will prevent what we might call the perv-curious from shuffling along for a quick look. The thing is that this doesn't seem likely to be a large number. The sick bastards who already know they like that shit will, as has already pointed out, be operating in such a way that the filter won't affect them. So these 355 sites will already be known to the perverts who use them and vice versa. Ah, you'll say, but the page won't be accessible from Australia once the filter is up. Bullshit, I say. Proxies and TORS, I say. Determined nonces will find ways and, as I've already said, even if it does work - which it won't - then you will have succeeded only in blocking a small proportion of filth accessed by a small proportion of perverts.

And at what cost - not just monetary - will you have achieved 'all' this? This sledgehammer you've created to miss a nut will have swallowed a fortune and as far as I can see will allow any future government who feels so inclined to quietly block anything on the web that they dislike or find threatening. Even without that every web user in Australia is going to find their ISP is passing the filter costs on to them and that in return they're not just being treated as a potential perv-curious but will have slower internet connection to boot (and Australia doesn't have a great rep for internet speeds as it is due to the crappy connections in many rural areas unless you're willing to pay through the nose for satellite broadband).

Let's come back to that since Conroy was in mid flow there.
'And so what we've proposed as part of this... we've invited public submissions and those - we've just published them all yesterday. The public submissions are to say, "Look, help us devise a new transparency mechanism'. We don't want it to be the government that is making these decisions. What we, what we want is a new mechanism with an industry body perhaps, er, a retired judge, anyone of those sorts of mechanisms that people might suggest, that they will vet the list, say, every six months to make sure the government hasn't slipped something on that shouldn't be there.'
Or alternatively you could just not fucking do it. Look, you're just moving the problem out of your office and down the fucking hall. If it's down to whatever body or retired judge or other 'mechanism' (not sure judges are robots by the way) you have, then it simply becomes a question of whether their personal views coincide with the government that's blocking content that it really shouldn't, and if not then their susceptibility to being leant on. In short, it's no fucking guarantee at all and is hardly better than if the decision remained in your fucking office. On the other hand if the list is public then millions of people can see whether or not you've slipped something on that shouldn't be there. Yes, they'll also be able to see these 355 sites, or rather the URLs - and the fact that you think this is still a problem is a bit of a giveaway that you know access will still be possible via proxies etc. - but if you feel that defeats the object doesn't it make more sense to drop the whole silly idea completely?

Now, on to another bit of question ducking where Conroy again answers a question that this time Carrie Bickmore didn't ask.
Carrie Bickmore: 'Senator Conroy, I want to ask as a mum: I just wonder whether ... using this filter is actually, I guess, almost misleading 'cause it lulls parents into this false sense of thinking, 'Oh, okay, you're gonna filter everything. I don't want my child to see, you know, naughty stuff ["Naughty stuff"? Boggle - Angry Exile] on the internet.' In fact it's not going to do that so will it lead to families being, I guess, lax and not watching their kids online?'

Senator Conroy: 'The focus of the government's cyber safety policy has been on this one item. Our cyber safety policy actually has more money for more police, more money for court action, more money...'

Charlie Pickering: 'But a disproportionate amount of money is on the filter. Most of what you're spending is on this filter, which is, er, if it's going to have 100% it's gonna slow down the internet.'
Oh, Charlie. It's a good point but so was Carrie's and now Conroy's never going to have to answer her. Granted, he probably wouldn't have anyway, but still I'd have liked to have seen him pressured on that because it was probably the most blatant bit of alternative question answering he resorted to. Will it lead to misplaced confidence and parents dropping their guard? Well, we're giving more money to police and courts. Right. Thanks for that, Steve, it's just fucking crystal now.

Oh well, since we've moved on to costs let's here Conroy out on that.
'No, look, that was, that was something that Mark Newton - appeared in your package at the beginning - knows is untrue. let me be very clear about this. All of the tests, all of the trials, and these have been done independently by Telstra who did their own, separate from the government. There is zero impact, zero impact in accuracy. It is 100% accurate.'
Really? So when you said in 2008 (well, that PR again):
'Successful blocking (the proportion of illegal and inappropriate content that should have been blocked that was successfully blocked) was between 88% and 97% with most achieving over 92%. Overblocking (the proportion of content that was blocked that should not have been blocked) was between 1% and 6%, with most falling under 3%.'
you were talking about some other tests? Tests that for some reason don't count anymore and shouldn't be considered. And actually tests that actually were slightly worse than in your PR if these are the same results, which is a fair assumption given it's the same date.
  • 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;
  • 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.
  • The trial tested speed on a simple 'black listed or not' basis for all simulated clients on all systems, yet the report outlines the ability of the filters to provide customised filtering to each client (as would be required by the two levels of filtering which ACMA is proposing) which would significantly impact test results.
Perhaps a special kind of mathematics applies in Canberra that allows 87% to be the same as 100%. Now, on to the issue of speed.
Charlie Pickering (interrupting): 'But (unclear) a YouTube page said that you are gonna slow down the internet.'

Senator Conroy (slowly and deliberately): 'This is not true.'
Ahem, according to you (PR again) in 2008 it fucking well is true.
The performance or ‘network degradation’ for one of the tested products was less than 2%, whilst three products were less than 30% and two products were in excess of 75%.
And 22% degradation on one just from fucking being switched on? Would you like me to tell you where you can shove that? Look, if the possible filters have improved since then and what was the case in 2008 isn't any more, fine. One lost only 2% so that's not implausible - just say so clearly and unequivocally and we'll all let it drop.

Stephen, why aren't you saying so clearly and unequivocally? Could it be that the speed issue is still there?
Senator Conroy (continuing reply to Charlie Pickering):  'We're not including high traffic sites.'
Oh for fuck's sake, you soppy cunt, you can make nothing into anything or the other way round depending on what you decide to count or ignore. You might just as well measure road traffic only outside metropolitan areas and declare that Australia virtually never has a traffic jam. I cannot believe you said that and it's a shame that time was clearly running very short at that point because they began to wrap the interview up. None of them were able to take you on about your continued appeal to the authority of Telstra, a telecoms company that last year had every reason to curry favour with your department so as not to be broken up - they didn't get their way so there might well be nothing in that and they really did get incredible - literally incredible - results of 100% accuracy with no speed loss, disproving the 2008 tests. Or maybe the tests were just a bit shit.
Enex TestLab did not test ISP-level filtering products on internet connection speeds greater than 8 Mbps, raising questions of possible degradation at ADSL2+ and fibre speeds.

Further, none of the nine ISPs who piloted filtering technologies could provide an environment to test Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), an addressing scheme the internet industry expects will be necessary in the coming years as IPv4 addresses run out.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy yesterday revealed the long-awaited Enex report on the Government's controversial trials of ISP-level filtering technologies [which] concluded the filtering technologies did not degrade internet performance - except when filtering content above and beyond the ACMA blacklist, in which Enex found the filters were hampered by over-blocking.

But the report also shows that only internet speeds of up to 8 Mbps were subjected to the tests.


Internode network engineer Mark Newton - a fervent opponent of the filter proposal - said it was "extraordinary" that the Federal Government had not tested the impact of content filtering on higher speed connections.

“If the Minister thinks this report puts the speed question to bed, he's sorely mistaken," Newton said.

"[He] has to accept that this report leaves open questions about whether or not his censorship policy is compatible with his 100 Mbps national broadband network."
Indeed. Why the fuck spend millions of dollars of our money on the national high speed broadband network if you don't know if it's going to be fucked up by this ridiculous and flawed net nanny on which you've spent millions of dollars of our money. But beyond the money and beyond the protestations of unrealistic perfection (only with certain allowances made) and a perfect test record (not counting the tests that weren't perfect and not testing for all real life conditions) we've still got the massive issue of being forced to trust not only this government not to abuse it, but also the next government, and the next, and the next, and the next and so on. One day one of them will be handed a print out from some annoying bastard with a website and a big gob and, instead of just wishing that the annoying noise would go away, give instructions to have it blacklisted. That, Senator Conroy, is why you got awarded Internet Villain of the Year and why we're now being compared with countries like Iran and North Korea. It's not you - though your personal track record doesn't fill me with confidence - it's the unknown politicians who are still to come. If there's no filter it can't be abused. If it exists it's just a matter of time before it is.

And the Grand Prix grid girls' new uniforms look shit too.
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