Internet Filter: 2010 is the Internet’s 2012.

Just over a year ago today I started this blog as a part of a larger body of work to combat the lunacy that is the Internet filter. I thought we were doing a good job of it to, since the trial was delayed several times and as far as anyone could tell the policy was dying a slow quite death. Indeed with companies like the Internet giant Google damning the policy you’d think that the government would want it to disappear quietly into the dark night. As it turns out nothing could be further from the truth, with several news articles coming out yesterday stating that not only had the trial been successful, it had actually achieved filtering nirvana:

THE Federal Government is pushing ahead with its controversial plan to filter the internet, saying illegal material can be blocked “with 100 per cent accuracy and negligible impact on internet speed”. It has just released results of its latest live filtering trials, used as proof that a national internet filter will work.

Labor will introduce legislation next year requiring all service providers to ban “refused classification” (RC) material hosted on overseas servers.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says RC material includes “child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence and the detailed instruction of crime and drug use”.

“Most Australians acknowledge there is some internet content which is not acceptable in any civilised society,” Senator Conroy said.

A little digging around got me a link to the full report, available here. Looking into the report there are a few issues I can identify outright and some more insights I’ve gleaned after reading the whole thing. Overall it doesn’t bode well for us Australian’s who enjoy our Internet unfiltered.

The first issue I draw with the report is this line on page 7 (you’ll have to forgive their spelling mistakes to):

Participants were tested for accuracy in blocking the ACMA blacklist only and all nine participants achieved 100 percent accuracy ‐ a base requirement of the pilot.

Ok this is not what the initial proposal for the filter was, nor what Conroy’s rhetoric had alluded to. Filtering a list of 10,000 URLs is a trivial exercise and I’m not surprised that such a filter worked on an ISP level. In fact the government has already provided software to parents that will work to such an effect which can run on a home grade computer. This is not the heart of the problem though, as the technical challenge was just a small part of it. No where in the report or the rhetoric do we see a policy for how URLs get on the blacklist nor how to get it off should you somehow get on it. In essence the premise of the testing was a complete and utter farce.

The report indicates that any measures taken to prevent circumvention will have a negative impact on performance (pp 3, 25-27). Now when the results of this report were released there was no mention of this and it leaves the government with 2 options when they try to push the filter through. They have to either mandate that circumvention prevention be enabled (We can’t have the kids getting around this filter now can we) which degrades performance significantly or they simply leave it out, meaning that anyone with 5 minutes and Google can circumvent it. In essence saying that the filter trial was 100% successful is again misleading since any filter implemented on the back of these results will fail at either providing the service it seeks to achieve or send Australia’s Internet to the digital back water. Again it’s a load of bull.

However it seems that Telstra showed a small bit of sense for once (pg 7) which also provided some insight into the larger issues at hand:

Telstra did not test circumvention, because it considers that filtering can be circumvented by a technically competent user.

Telstra found its filtering solution was not effective in the case of non‐web based protocols such as instant messaging, peer‐to‐peer or chat rooms. Enex confirms that this is also the case for all filters presented in the pilot. Telstra reported that heavy traffic sites could overload its trial filtering solution if included in the filtering blacklist. This is also the case for all filters presented in the pilot.

So let me get this straight, you can’t filter P2P (which Conroy said he was going to do as well) and if a high traffic site somehow manages to get on the blacklist your filter solution will get overloaded which would then, logically, lead to either slowdown or loss of Internet for those who are on it? Heaven help them if RedTube ever ends up on that list, oh wait it already is. Trying to implement this kind of thing with an Alexa Top 100 site on their list, and one that ranks in the top 50 in Australia, will almost certainly overload the filters of any real large scale ISP that tries to implement these technologies.

There’s another small issue here to, none of the participants are named and neither are their solutions making a real analysis of these results impossible. If we go off the list they released a long time ago 5 of them were small time ISPs and only one of them was a semi-large (iPrimus), but still a small player in respect to the larger Internet community in Australia. Their report states that there were 9 total ISPs (2 large, 1 medium and 6 small) however with Optus being the only large provider who’s openly supported it (all the others have been outright hostile and Telstra didn’t test on their live network) that only leaves the medium (iPrimus) and 6 small for them to base their tests off. You can see why I question how relevant the results really are.

The report shows just how ridiculous the filter really is and how you can distort any test results to support your rhetorical point of view. Any real implementation of the filter will not mimic these results and trumpeting these results as showing that such a thing is viable is an insult to the public’s intelligence. I hope you will all join me in sending Conroy a message that this kind of malarkey will not be tolerated by the Australian community at large.

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