Australia Internet Filter Back flip on CENSORSHIP – for now

by Loren  @mr_internet
Melbourne Australia
21 Nov 2012


I told them so -a really bad bad idea avoided  for now. 

I read recently from a great writer for the Australia Financial Review James Hutchinson, @j_hutch.   His article reads to me of the junk the Australian Government has tried to offer us and surprised many are still chewing the cud on this bull.

When I answered a job advert some time ago, for an Internet filtering expert here in Australia working the Australian Government, I applied with great interest. In the Internet  industry for 20 years, I introduced, ‘productized’,  evangelized and offered Internet filtering for sale on behalf of British Telecom, UK in the 90’s for the corporate masses.

BT was just coming out of being owned by the government, and the Internet at the time was for the corporate world only due to prices.

The idea then was simple, there was this thing called newsgroups that had a lot of good things but also lots of porn and worse. Business wanted the content and to provide the content that newsgroups offered but not porn or other things. The Internet included newsgroups so if you could not offered filtered services some large corporate would not take the regular newsgroups services.

Certain newsgroups sites with obvious sounding names, made it easy to filter out some sties by name. Others were not so easy and as crazy as it sounded we actually employed teams of people to manually filter newsgroups, to then offer only a clean feed for corporate consumption and sold this premium service for a good profit as part of our regular $12,000 per month 64k Internet connection (sounds crazy huh).

When the Australia Government wanted to do this now (in 2011), ‘to protect our children from porn’, I was intrigued and of course skeptical. Most activity to protect ‘children from porn’, was really just another way to condone censorship. Australia has dabbled in it before and was shown to be able to be ‘hacked’ if done at the client level by an Australian school boy in 10-15 seconds with only basic knowledge of the Internet. Thusly, the Australian government had to do this at the pipe level.

Hardware at the time to do this was rare, and then there was a bandwidth issue. Congestion on the Internet would get worse, regardless to what was said, and the ISPs would have the biggest burden of all, managing it.

What troubled me most, was the ‘protect our children banner’ yet what was really being asked for was the ability to filter any content an unnamed Australian Government individual could ask for or worse manage themselves. When I queried this anomaly in the interviewing I was bluntly asked if I had any objection to this. I asked again, ‘Filtering certain nasty content, no I had no objection, I am passionate on it and have demonstrated that ’. Offering the ability to filter other content like anti-Australian government content from the Australian Internet, or censorship as a whole, I obviously had a big objection (being American now Aussie) around the US 1st Amendment Right to Free Speech, and a contributing Internet pioneer in my own mind, Introducing many Internet Services of my own including Business Broadband in the UK.

I was left out of the final round of interviews. Interestingly when I went to the EFF on this they doubted the whole filtering idea was real (and I guess me either), and after a few attempts I gave up, thinking this thing would (hopefully) never work, but have watched with interest.

Australian communications Minister Stephen Conroy dabbled with this a bit more publically as addressed in the artice here

So for now I get to say I told you so, but the thin line between ‘protecting our children’ and just plain censorship of the Internet for other purposes is getting more tempting by Governments and something we all need to be aware of.

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