[LINK] Labor mum on filter trials

Jan Whitaker jwhit at janwhitaker.com
Fri Jan 30 21:53:09 AEDT 2009

Labor's 'deafening silence' as web censorship trials delayed

Asher Moses
January 30, 2009 - 4:00PM

One of the largest ISPs signed up to participate in Labor's ambitious 
internet censorship trials has said its application has been met with 
"deafening silence" from the Government, raising questions over the 
workability of the proposed scheme and the effectiveness of the trials.

The Government originally planned to trial the mandatory internet 
filters before Christmas but the timetable has been pushed back 
considerably and the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has 
still not released details of which ISPs have signed up to take part 
in the trials or when they will begin.

Mark White, COO of iiNet, said the ISP put in its submission to be 
part of the trial on December 6 and was told that the Government 
would come back with more details by the middle of January, but all 
it had heard was "deafening silence".

"I can't for a moment speculate what's going on but it certainly 
doesn't seem to be running as a project on time and they're certainly 
not communicating with the people that they need to - that is, the 
ISPs that have offered to test this thing," said White.

Senator Conroy - despite his promises before Labor was elected that 
people would be able to opt out of any internet filters - has said 
the first tier of the Government's censorship policy will be 
compulsory for all. This would block all "illegal" and 
"inappropriate" material, as determined in part by a secret blacklist 
administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

A second tier would filter out content deemed harmful for children, 
such as pornography, but this would be optional for internet users.

Australia's largest ISP, Telstra, and Internode have said they will 
not take part in the trials. The second-largest ISP, Optus, will run 
a scaled-back trial of just the first tier, while iiNet, the 
third-biggest provider, has also said it will only trial the first 
tier, simply to show the Government that its scheme will not work.

The Government said this week it had received 16 applications from 
ISPs looking to take part in the trials and more details would be 
available within days but the lack of participation from the major 
ISPs indicates that the trial participants will be small players with 
few users.

This may mean the trials will not provide much useful data as to the 
effects of internet filtering in the real-world.

Cooperation from the large ISPs has been so poor that makers of 
internet filtering hardware - mindful of the revenue they could 
generate if the internet censorship plan goes ahead - are petitioning 
small ISPs, offering to provide them with all the equipment they need 
to take part in the trials.

"I know that some vendors have been approaching ISPs and saying we're 
happy to support your participation in the trial and then on that 
basis they put in an application," said Peter Coroneos, CEO of the 
Internet Industry Association.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who has long campaigned against the 
censorship plan, said the delays in starting the trials indicated the 
Government may have hit the wall of technical impossibility that the 
industry had been warning it about for 12 months.

"Considering the intention was to launch a live trial before 
Christmas, we've got a six week delay and no commitment to testing on 
actual people," he said.

"This isn't a great advertisement for the workability of any large 
scale scheme. The proposal has always been unpopular, now perhaps the 
Government is starting to come to grips with what the industry has 
been saying all along: if your policy objective is to protect 
children online, this is not the way to go about it."

Ludlam posed a series of questions to the Government about the web 
censorship scheme late last year and responses were received this month.

Asked to provide evidence to support the claimed public demand for 
filtered internet connections, the Government said the plan was an 
election commitment.

"I don't think it's good enough to refer back to an election promise 
that no one even knew existed ... they certainly didn't campaign on 
it," Senator Ludlam said.

"You get a sense of the degree of public demand by the fact that the 
voluntary opt-in [NetAlert] scheme [that was started by the Howard 
government and provided free software filters] was so barely 
subscribed that they closed it down."

The Government also admitted that any internet filters it would 
introduce could be bypassed using easily available technological tools.

And despite Senator Conroy claiming that most of the content on the 
ACMA blacklist was child pornography, the Government revealed that 
only 674 sites out of the 1370 sites currently listed related to 
depictions of a child under 18.

506 sites would be classified R18+ and X18+, which is legal to view 
in Australia but would be blocked for everyone under Labor's 
mandatory censorship scheme.

The policy has attracted opposition from online consumers, lobby 
groups, ISPs, network administrators, some children's welfare groups, 
the Opposition, the Greens, NSW Young Labor and even the conservative 
Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, who famously tried to censor the chef 
Gordon Ramsay's swearing on television.

A recent survey by Netspace of 10,000 of the ISP's customers found 61 
per cent strongly opposed mandatory internet filtering with only 6.3 
per cent strongly agreeing with the policy.

An expert report, handed to the Government last February but kept 
secret until December after it was uncovered by the Herald, concluded 
the proposed scheme was fundamentally flawed.

It says the filters would slow the internet - as much as 87 per cent 
by some measures - be easily bypassed and would not come close to 
capturing all of the nasty content available online.

They would also struggle to distinguish between wanted and unwanted 
content, leading to legitimate sites being blocked. Entire 
user-generated content sites, such as YouTube and Wikipedia, could be 
censored over a single suspect posting.

"It's definitely not going to be workable to get a very significant 
reduction in access to this [unwanted] content that is available out 
there - it's fundamentally just not viable," said one of the report's 
authors, University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
jwhit at janwhitaker.com
business: http://www.janwhitaker.com
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