the great firewall of oz

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Tue Dec 30 08:20:07 PST 2008

Great Firewall of Australia: Whatbs not mentioned makes it even more scary

Many in Australia, and those overseas interested in censorship would have now
read a post from the Australian Minister for Censorship Stephen Conroy
responding to concern over the implementation of the Great Firewall of

I wonbt rehash whatbs already been reported, but having read it several times
since publication, itbs whatbs left out that makes the proposal even more

Free Speech

The Minister has stated that political speech will not be filtered under the
proposal, but fails to define acceptable free speech and does nothing more to
articulate his previous comments that bunwantedb material will be filtered
under the scheme.

The problem here is the extraordinary mish-mash of Australian laws relating
to open speech. In Victoria for example inciting religious hatred is an
offense, so theoretically arguing against a particular religion would
constitute hate speech instead of fair political speech.

Australia has a long track record of banning books, but for all the hatred
are we now not better today having access to something like Mein Kampf so we
can understand how wrong it is. There is a blurred line between political and
hate speech, and blocking such speech on the internet will not stop people
accessing it.

Conroy is disingenuous in suggesting that the Government is pro-free speech,
yet pro-censorship: the price of free speech is that we must put up with the
stuff we donbt like. The alternative system is not free speech, itbs

Adult Games

Australia still has the bizarre situation of refusing to categorize video
games for adults. The Minister says nothing of such games online, so we can
still only presume that adult games online that would be refused
categorization in Australia will be blocked under the filter.

Such games include online virtual world Second Life among many.

It should be remembered that Australia is a country that refused
classification to Duke Nukem 3D, let alone far more seriously violent games.


Whether you like pornography or not, the hypocrisy of the Governments
proposal remains the same. Senator Conroy continues to point to existing
guidelines being extended to International content, but ignores the absurdity
in the current guidelines.

R rated pornography is legal in Australia and can be purchased at newsagents
or service stations. Under the guidelines proposed, R rated pornography
online would be illegal unless those pages included an thorough adult
verification scheme. That doesnbt mean enter your date here to proceed: as
has previously been the case for age requirements for mobile content and R
rated content hosted in Australia (of which there is little to none) that
would include handing over credit card details, or in some cases being forced
to register with the provider first, including the provision of adequate
identifying measures to prove ones age.

The net affect is that 99.99% of R rated pornography, or any R rated material
under this proposal will be blocked by the filter, as overseas providers will
not bend over backwards to cater for a small market like Australia. Secondly:
Australianbs will be none to keen to hand over details to these sites should
they meet the criteria.

X Rated pornography is treated more strictly in Australia currently, but is
quite legal, and available for purchase from the ACT and Northern Territory.
X rated material under this proposal will be completely banned: so while it
is legal to possess, look at or own in print or video, it will now be
completely blocked online. Again: whether you agree with porn or not, the
hypocrisy is rich. In terms of freedom of speech it also raises other issues:
who is the Government to play moral guardian online over a picture of two
consenting adults having sex? Presuming they are doing nothing illegal, why
in the 21st century does the Government seek to prevent others seeing it?
Government finally got out of the bedroom in the 80s when homosexuality
became legal, some would argue that X Rated porn is no different again.

Secret Blacklist/ Due Process

The Minister points out that the blacklist to be maintained by ACMA will
remain a secret, and cites legislation supporting this. His reasoning, as it
seems to be for everything, is that itbs all about kiddie porn

    Publishing the title or internet address of child abuse material would
constitute distribution of illegal material and is therefore protected from
release. To do otherwise would allow a person to view and download the
material in jurisdictions where ISP-level filtering was not implemented.

That may well be the case, but the Minister fails to address concerns about
due process should a site be added to the list. If there is no access to the
list, there is no way to appeal a site being blocked incorrectly. Imagine a
commenter leaving a lurid comment or pic on this blog, or a forum, and the
site being added to the list based on this one instance. No transparency can
only equal unfair and arbitrary justice that remains the hallmark of
totalitarian Government.

Selection Criteria

The Minister refers to the National Classification Scheme, a system where by
content providers must seek classification of content prior to publication.
He then refers to content complaints being made to ACMA, and ACMA making the
call on classification. One again the Minister fails to address properly the
selection criteria under the scheme: will website owners need to seek
classification on content prior to publication? If so, this would be an
onerous burden on new media owners and businesses in Australia, costing time,
money and putting those businesses at a strict competitive disadvantage
compared to overseas operators.

If ACMA will decide on content classification, will they only act on
complaints as is currently the process (again the Minister swaps and changes
between the current and proposed system). If so, how exactly will the filter
know what is acceptable and not acceptable content given the millions of porn
sites alone that may fall under the censorship regime.

Likewise, will the filter then decide to block content based on keywords?
Could we not see the case, as has happened before that a site about breast
cancer is blocked because the filter considers breasts to be pornographic?


The Minister notes that in the last round of tests, overblocking, that is
filters blocking legal content came in at 3-6%. He only notes that this is an
advance on previous tests, but fails to address the very serious

Under the scheme, three to six percent of perfectly legal content gets
blocked. Anything other than a 0% rate is acceptable.

Imagine the Australian Government waking up one morning and deciding that 6%
of Australian businesses could no longer open their doors to their customers,
and the outcry this would cause. This is EXACTLY what this proposal will do
to online businesses, and companies with a primarily Australian focus online
could find themselves out of business for no other reason that the
Governmentbs filter has decided to block them, even though they were doing no


The Minister now states that P2P filtering technology is in the mix, despite
its relative infancy. The question then becomes one of bunwanted.b Will the
Government now extend the censorship regime to content presumed to be in
breach of copyright as well? We can bet with absolute certainty that the
Record and Movie Industries already have a letter on the Ministers desk.

Like general filtering, the question then becomes one of identification and
process. How does the Government identify bunwanted materialb and given that
the blacklist or decision process is secret, what happens when content is
incorrectly tagged. As we know the music and record industries donbt have a
great track record of respecting existing copyright laws when it comes to
accusations (for example, the defense of Fair Use, or Fair Trading in

Further will P2P network speeds be adversely affected for legal traffic?

Internet Speeds

The Minister notes falsely once again that in other countries running ISP
filtering using blacklists that there was no discernable decrease in speed,
despite noting the tests here proving otherwise.

What the Minister continues to fail to mention is that the countries running
blacklists he mentions were running child porn blacklists in some cases on
non-compulsory feeds. What the Minister is proposing is far more reaching
than anything any of these countries are running, and every time he quotes
those figures itbs a lie of context.


While itbs a positive that the Minister has finally spoken on some of the
points raised by the Great Firewall of Australia proposal, itbs what he
doesnbt answer that makes the proposal even more scary.

The implementation of this scheme can and will take Australia into an elite
club of totalitarian societies that value state control over free speech. The
Rudd Government seems hell bent on implementing a scheme with no recourse,
that may kill legitimate businesses, and slow internet speeds so that
Australia can truly take its place as an online backwater in the digital age.

Today I am ashamed to be Australian, ashamed that my Government should seek
to implement draconian 19th century style censorship laws over the marvel of
the modern age: The Internet. Free Speech may not be totally dead in
Australia yet, but itbs about to be placed on life support. Conroy can say
all he wants that this isnbt about free speech, but speech censored by
Government isnbt free, no matter which way you want to spin it.

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