Howard Government Big Brother Internet Role "A Ludicrous Joke"
Like most things concerned with the internet that the Howard government dabbles in, its suddenly announced plan to block "terror" and "cyber-crime" websites from Australian eyes will prove to be an embarrassing and expensive failure.
As this story details, the only way the Howard government can do what it claims it intends to do when it comes to banning "dangerous" websites is to follow the 'block-it-all' steel fist approach of the Chinese government. An approach the Chinese government has already all but given up on.
The Australian website and internet industries are swinging between a state of shock and gails of laughter as it takes a closer look at the new legislation the Howard government rammed into Parliament with no notice or preliminary briefings.
They'll get down on their knees and open wide for coal and oil companies, but when it comes to working in a calm, open-minded and industrious manner with Australia's rapidly expanding internet industry and web-based business communities, to build a prosperous future for all, the Howard government is still locked firmly in the 20th century.
In short, they have no idea, and they show it every time they unfurl new plans to censor the internet, or to introduce "Won't Someone Please Think Of The Children" level content filtering :
The proposed legislation, introduced without notice into Parliament last week, also gives the commissioner powers to order take-downs of Australian sites related to terrorism and cyber-crime.
The amendment allows federal police to notify the Australian Communications and Media Authority of banned websites, and the authority must then notify service providers. It anticipates ISPs will block access to offshore sites with filters and other technical means.
Industry insiders say the only way a service provider could prevent users accessing banned material is by blocking the internet protocol address on the host server.
"Australia is only one tiny fraction of the global internet and there are numerous places where constitutional protections ensuring free speech mean all sorts of objectional stuff can be hosted, and at present there's no regime here actually requiring ISPs to block access to such sites," Internode carriage manager John Lindsay said.
"If such a request were made, the most fine-grained way we could actually do it would be to block access to the IP address. That's the Chinese approach. They basically block by IP address.
"Now, if that IP address happened to be MySpace, or Facebook, that would have the effect of blocking everything from those sites."
According to an Ovum report to the communications department, many hosting services carry thousands of domains on a single published IP address.Telstra, Optus, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, the Internet Industry Association and others are currently reviewing the legislation, which caught them by surprise.
Electronic Frontiers Australia chair Dale Clapperton said the proposal had nothing to do with terrorism.
"These laws will be open to massive abuses by the police," he said. "They could, for example, be used to prevent access to websites organising protest marches or rallies against the government, or advocating the legalisation of euthanasia.
"To the extent that it allows police to ban access to material discussing political matters, it is probably unconstitutional."
ISP-based filtering was "a blunt instrument" that gave users no control over what material had been censored, Mr Clapperton said.
"Unfortunately, filtering will not make the internet safe for children. If parents are deceived into thinking a filtered service is safe they will be less likely to supervise their children while they use the internet."
A requirement to provide filtered services would impose serious costs on local ISPs, while also exposing them to liability when "the filters inevitably fail" to block banned material, he said. Filtering were also likely to cause a reduction in internet speed. Microsoft internet safety regional director Julie Inman-Grant said the company was concerned to ensure it could provide its content services to consumers on substantially the same terms globally.
"It would be very difficult to have the capacity to check every single link that is posted on a user's individual webpage." Internode's John Lindsay said ISPs fully supported the government's efforts to remove violence and child pornography, race hate and other objectional material from local sites, and would be happy to extend that to sites promoting terrorism."(But)...once you start building up enormous lists of things you want to block, the list gets endlessly larger even though the original content has gone." This would have the ultimate effect of slowing down internet performance. "You might have fast broadband, but you won't get any speed from it because there's a whole room of servers between you and the internet that are picking over everything to make sure you don't see anything objectionable," he said. "That would be a ludicrous joke."