Dear Anthony Albanese on Internet Censorship

Lots of people are writing to their MPs to explain why the proposed Internet censorship regime, as currently being pushed by Senator Conroy, won't work and is a draconian imposition on the rights of citizens. The biggest issue is that the system won't actually work, as measured against its purported goals, but will have a dramatic impact on the performance of the network and the availability of perfectly-legal material.

So get over to OpenAustralia to find out who your local member is, and get writing! The only language they understand is votes. Here's my letter to Anthony Albanese, who happens to also be Minister for Infrastructure, Leader of the House and a big shaker and mover in the ALP.

Dear Mr Albanese,

I'm writing to express my concern about the proposed Internet censorship regime being promoted by Senator Conroy. He would instead characterise it as a "filtering" regime, but as has recently emerged it will not be optional and so constitutes censorship, in the Great Firewall of China model, used to stifle political speech in China.

Two aspects of the proposed censorship regime concern me most, but they aren't the only problems.

First of all is the fact that it won't work. I'm an Internet technical type, and I've looked through the lab trial report and can't see how any technical approach could possibly work effectively. Regardless of whether or not it will slow down peoples' Internet connections--and it most certainly will--it will not actually be effective in blocking only the targetted material, and nothing else.

Any filtering system will either need to break the security mechanisms used for online commerce, trade and secure communications (like Internet banking and stock trading) or will be trivially easy to bypass. So illegal material will continue to be available to the people who want it. Technically-savvy children will also be able to bypass it, with their parents given a false sense of security that the government is doing their job for them.

A friend of mine lived in China for six months and was upset that he couldn't view sites like CNN, BBC or our own ABC to see what was happening in the world. In about fifteen minutes I set up a method for him to get around the Great Firewall of China and view these sites. This method would be used to get around the Great Firewall of Australia.

My second major concern is the way Conroy is stifling public discourse about his proposal. His office attempted to stop a respected network engineer from criticising the project, by placing pressure on the Internet Industry Association. He has also repeatedly characterised any critics of the proposal as being pro child pornorgraphy. This cheap rhetorical trick conflates the two aspects of the project: one is to "protect children from bad stuff on the Internet" and the other is to "censor illegal material".

The current system of voluntary Internet filtering software, made available for free to Australian households, is flawed but is probably the best approach we have. It means, at least, that parents have control over the level of censorship they want to impose on their children. Otherwise we end up with every special interest group banning their own hobby horses for everyone. That means Steven Fielding wanting to ban the human reproductive system and Nick Xenophon wanting all gambling made illegal.

Education is the key to handling the diverse range of content on the Internet. Families need the tools to make decisions for themselves, rather than having Big Nanny make decisions for them. One of the easiest approaches I've heard of is placing the family computer in a public location such as the dining room, so that everyone can be observed using the Internet.

I'd be happy to meet with you and explain the technical details of the proposal, and why it won't work. I also have some ideas about a face-saving fallback approach that does the maximum to prevent genuinely illegal content (child porn, terrorist material) that can be done by government without imposing draconian restrictions on citizens.

Simon Rumble
Marrickville NSW 2204