OpenNet Initiative: Australia’s content filtering “frightening”

A collaboration of Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and Toronto universities warns that Internet filtering is prone to error, collateral filtering and underblocking, no matter where or how it is implemented

The principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) has labelled the federal government’s proposed mandatory Internet filtering scheme “frightening” and typical of non-democratic regimes.

Associate Professor, Ronald Deibert, is co-founder and principal investigator of ONI – a collaborative partnership between Harvard Law School, Oxford University, Cambridge University and the Citizen Lab at University of Toronto.

Deibert told ARN he found the proposal to implement mandatory filtering in Australia both puzzling and frightening.

“Over the last 7 years, I have closely documented patterns of Internet filtering worldwide, and typically proposals of this sort are found among non-democratic regimes,” he said. “There is a trend towards filtering of access to information involving the sexual exploitation of children, for example in Canada and the United Kingdom, but these appear to be much narrower in scope than that which is being proposed in Australia.”

“Filtering, wherever and however it occurs, is prone to error, collateral filtering and underblocking. This is the one definite finding the ONI has produced

Ronald Deibert, OpenNet Initiative

Senator Conroy’s proposal that ISPs provide a mandatory clean Internet feed to all Australians will undergo a live trial over the Christmas period. The Federal Opposition, industry and privacy groups have rejected the proposal, while the Greens have accused Conroy of misleading parliament over what other countries have trialed mandatory filtering.

Deibert, who also co-authored the book Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering, said optional filtering schemes in Canada and the UK had major transparency and accountability problems that may be duplicated, if not exacerbated, in Australia.

In Canada, for example, filtering of access to child pornography is left in the hands of private ISPs. Deibert said this lack of civilian oversight meant there was no measure of redress for sites that had been improperly blocked.

In Australia, the public will have no means to determine what sites are blocked, as recent amendments to Freedom of Information laws means the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will administer a secret blacklist with no public oversight or accountability.

“I find it puzzling because although I do not know the Australian political situation well, I have never thought of Australians being particularly prudish or conservative. I suppose I am wrong. There are numerous accountability problems and lingering questions about this system that activists, scholars, and academics in Australia have pointed out. I share their concerns,” he said.

“Filtering, wherever and however it occurs, is prone to error, collateral filtering and underblocking. This is the one definite finding the ONI has produced.”

Deibert does not doubt the good intentions behind Senator Conroy’s proposal, but claims implementation of mandatory filtering reflects a lack of understanding of the limits of filtering, the dangers of unaccountable and opaque public policy practices, and the absence of checks and balances.

“I think it's the wrong approach entirely. We need to provide assistance to law enforcement and intelligence and leave whatever filtering occurs to private actors in voluntary arrangements. That way people can choose for themselves what services they want to purchase, and law enforcement and intelligence agents have the resources they need to do the job properly," he said.

Deibert claimed Senator Conroy’s $125.8 million budget allocation for the filtering scheme would be better spent dedicating more resources and technology to law enforcement and intelligence agencies to track down people who produced and distributed images of child exploitation.

“From what little I know about this area, filtering of access to information related to the sexual exploitation of children will not prevent the circulation of this material that almost all reasonable people believe is objectionable, including me,” he said.

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6 Comments

Security Consultant

1

OpenNet Initiative: Australia’s content filtering “frightening”

I have been involved with this process since Sept07, and have had various meetings and briefings with the teams involved with this filtering project. (I am an independant consultant and receive zero payments)
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The process has not been perfect, however one thing is clear:
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Apparently these University people have little idea what has been proposed here, and I often see this evidenced by many commentators on the subject. There seems to be a constant mixing up of the two levels of proposed filtering. The first being mandatory filtering of illegal content, as per all Australian media controls, whether print, TV, radio, film etc. Someone help me to understand why this is non-democratic?? We have been doing this for 100 years in Australia, and now people wake up from some moral slumber and decide that this is non-democratic??
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Secondly we have the "opt-out" filtering level, where an extended list of "R" rated and above type stuff should be filtered, with an "opt-out" option for all the adults to view whatever they like from this area.
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What is non-democratic about that??? You want to see this stuff, then simply opt-out of the filtering, which is primarily there to protect children and those wishing to avoid such materials... If the "opt-out" is too hard for anyone, then they should not be using the internet in any case, for it can be a dangerous place for the naive...
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As for the "secrecy" of the list, again a lack of knowledge of the subject matter leads to ignorant statements and mis-information: Anyone with a skerrick of knowledge of the internet and filtering technologies, or has at least made the effort to read the proposed system functions, knows that any site access blocking or filtering actions will trigger a warning or a "Blocked Site" message. You will instantly know whather you have encountered a questionable site and what address it is.
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What is non-democratic about that: No secrecy...
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Now you can merrily email anyone of thousands of well meaning helpers internationally, free of Australian constraints, and find out just what was on that page you wanted to access. You can believe me when I now claim that this will create storms of protest if it is a false positive, or even better, a sinister move by the Government (subversive as the Australian governments always are...) to block your access to some website they simply do not like.
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Now this sounds like something out of a Jason Bourne movie more that the realities of Australian life today...
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As for Mr. Diebert: I suggest he gets the facts straight before making such misleading statements. If we were to follow his logic, then we would shut down Customs Control at Australian ports of entry and only invest in Law Enforcement to find and identify those sending drugs and contraband into Australia...
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Or would that be non-democratic as well???

Anonymous

2

OpenNet Initiative: Australia’s content filtering “frightening”

Are you delusional?

Mr Diebert's statements are quit accurate, the only one being misleading here is you.

Your quote "(I am an independant consultant and receive zero payments)" suggests to me that as the government refuses to accept the advice of the real experts on this subject (read ISP's, Telstra, Optus, iiNet, Internode etc etc) you are one of two things (a) a salesman or owner of one of the questionable vendors who stand to financially benefit from the sale of your product to every ISP in Australia, or (b) you are one of the 2-5% of Australians who seek to impose your questionable moral standards on the rest of the country.

Before you make any more ridiculous comments I suggest you set aside a few days and read up on the facts with regard the Great Firewall of Australia here http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=967413

Anonymous

3

Your joking right?

There IS NO OPT OUT. Either you get stuck on the filter for children or opted out of that one for the other black list which is what ever the government deems illegal. How do you know what is on the site unless you view it yourself, especially if you've never been there? They could also block sites that are unfavourable or restrict information that they don't want anyone to know about. If I see this implemented I will be using software/VPNs/Proxies/Tor to get around it and render the filter useless. Not only that, kids have little to no trouble getting around these filters these days and are becoming more tech savy. Think before you post something that stupid again.

Richary

4

Filterint

The scary thing apart from all the technical reasons this will impact on speed, latency and so on is that is changed from being an opt-in filter of illegal material pre-election.

Now it is a mandatory filter that will include "unwanted" material as well as illegal; whatever that is depending on the government of the day. The blacklist is secret and exempt from FOI. Down the rocky road to dictatorship we go.

Join the fight against this. Just posting a reply here won't help the cause. Visit www.nocleanfeed.com and the links off that site. See what others are doing both at a grassroots and organised level to fight this. Mainstram media are finally picking it up and we have the will to defeat censorship in Australia.

And for a laugh, visit chairmanrudd.com

Anonymous

5

Filtering should be the choice of the family, not the government. There is fantastic filtering software out there for families that choose to utilize it; unfortunately, implementing a filter that the majority of people won't bother to opt out of may protect kids from pornography and such, but will also shield them from lots of useful information (including, potentially, sexual education sites, sites discussing certain aspects of history, the list goes on...)

Additionally, the mandatory filter may come with good intentions, but the United States' methods are far more neutral. Find a site supplying child pornography? Go straight to the source, arrest the perpetrators, and take down the site. If you only filter the site, it still exists, and can still be seen via proxy.

I commend Professor Deibert for standing by his beliefs, and think that your statement, that "university people don't know what they're talking about," is simply ridiculous. The OpenNet Initiative is at the forefront of Internet filtering research, and to suggest otherwise is sheer ignorance.

Anonymous

6

Filtering

I'm sorry but I just don't understand their desire to filter in this manner. It's really not going to solve anything since there are always ways around filters. For example, Remote Desktops which will never be blocked, people can buy servers wherever they want in the world.

OpenVPN connections also can't be blocked, we have accounts at http://www.strongvpn.com ,and there are other providers like http://findnot.com and http://vpnaccounts.com

I suggest getting a VPN to anyone behind a filter or looking for security. Also other benefits can be had.

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