Australia's Slippery Slope

With all of the news lately regarding Australia's Internet filtering scheme, one might think Australia were the first or only country to ever filter the Internet.

Since the filter was announced in 2007, it has been widely criticized. First, Australia announced their filtering scheme, which includes blocking nearly 10,000 sites. Then an Australian youth cracked the filter. Later on, Australian ISPs were told to keep quiet about their disagreement with the scheme.

The latest news reports state that Michael Malone, head of Australian ISP iiNet, has expressed distaste with the plan, going as far as to say that his main purpose was to: "provide the Government with "hard numbers" demonstrating "how stupid it is" - specifically that the filtering system would not work, would be patently simple to bypass, would not filter peer-to-peer traffic and would significantly degrade network speeds."

Malone is not the only one speaking out against the scheme. Two weeks ago I reported that Australian activists were protesting the filters. Today I spoke with Antoun Issa, an Australian journalist, to get his take on the filter.

The first issue that activists have with the filter is its effectiveness. Issa explains: "...When there was only 2% of network degradation, it performed only to 80% accuracy. When it reached its peak of 94% accuracy of sites blocked, the network degradation was as high as 30%." Given the fact that Australia's Internet speeds are generally lower than those in the United States and Europe, Australian subscribers would be hit with significantly low Internet speeds.

The second major problem with any filtering scheme, of course, is that of overblocking. Although the non-opt-out filter in Australia intends to block only illegal materials, including hardcore pornography, Issa explains that "There's a good chance sexuality-based websites and sexual-health sites would be mistakenly overblocked, because the filtering system simply cannot distinguish between what's 'good' sex and 'bad' sex."

The third and most important issue in terms of the economy is that the filter is an enormous expense, one which is not justifiable.

Additionally, Issa warns that the filtering scheme presents a slippery slope: While intended to only block illegal sites, it could easily be expanded to include other sites, including GLBT ones. In an interview Issa conducted with Greens Senator Scott Ludlum, the Senator warned that GLBT sites are at a great risk of being included in the filter eventually.

In an e-mail to me, Issa concluded: "It's just a completely flawed proposal. Not only does it leave our freedom and civil liberties open to manipulation by interest groups, but the impacts, including cost, that it will have on our internet speed and functionality is just astronomical. What's worse is that there's no demand for it. No one knows where on earth this policy has come from! If parents want to protect their children, they can buy their own personal filtering systems which can be far more aggressive than what the government is proposing."

Image credit: Janet Hawtin
"No filtering" t-shirt available online.