Academic expert: Internet filter isn't future-proof

Academic expert: Internet filter isn't future-proof

The Federal Government's proposed clean-feed will be useless in several years time, says University professor and filtering consultant on the eve of a new industry discussion forum


The Federal Government’s proposed Internet filter will be impotent in a few years time, an IT pundit claims.

University of Sydney associate professor of IT, Bjorn Landfeldt, said the ISP-based blacklist filtering system suggested by the Government was impractical and unworkable long-term. He was on the team that reported on the clean-feed’s viability for the Australian Government in 2008.

Landfeldt will also be one of several experts discussing the issue during the University’s upcoming Internet filtering forum on April 28 alongside representatives from Google, Inspire Foundation and the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre.

“The filter is not future-proof because it only applies to Web pages where the majority of people are accessing content now,” he said. But with the National Broadband Network (NBN), online material will move from being static and accessible through a single Web location to more ephemeral sources, Landfeldt claimed.

“The way it is stored may not have a static address, such as on a peer-to-peer [P2P] network instead of a Web server for instance,” he said. “A blacklist filter will not be able to shift into this new world of technical solutions or how we use, produce and store media.

“While there might be legislation in place to do filtering, in a few years’ time it is evident the proposed system will be rendered ineffective.”

Landfeldt tipped a shift to dynamic content filtering, a method which is not blacklist-based and processes media in real-time. But if applied at an ISP level, it would be detrimental to user experience and cripple the ISP industry, he claimed. A mandatory ISP-level filter could also be a real threat to small businesses as smaller ISPs could have difficultly managing the process.

“We know dynamic content filtering [at an ISP level] is very process hungry, inefficient and inaccurate,” he said. “No technology can do that in a centralised fashion but if you distribute this and put it on a home PC, such as with the former Government’s NetAlert scheme, it can work quite well.”

NetAlert was established by the former Liberal Government in 1999 to provide free PC-based filtering software. It was thrown out by the Rudd Government in 2008 after being deemed unsuccessful.

Landfeldt also criticised current plans to allow the Classification Board and ACMA to decide on what should be labelled RC. Broadband Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has continuously stressed only refused-classification (RC) content will be blocked based on a blacklist. But it is still unclear what the scope of RC will be.

“The amount of work hours that would go into scouring the Web and making proper decisions; we can’t afford that,” Landfeldt said. “Doing this in a manual way is terribly ineffective, terribly costly and very inaccurate because we just don’t have the bandwidth to get all the information to block on the filter on there.

“And if you have made a wrong judgement on blocked content, how do you go about removing it? It is hard to put a reliable mechanism in place to manage the list.”

Efforts to circumvent the proposed clean-feed have already begun with several IT professionals like The Pirate Party member and Newcastle-based reseller, David Campbell, offering classes on how to bypass Internet filters.

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Tags federal governmentuniversity of sydneyMandatory ISP filteringAssociate Professor Bjorn LandfeldtProfessor of IT

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