An Open Letter to Senator Conroy

Dear Senator

Your proposed Internet filter will not work. It is technically unfeasible.

The filter will cost tax payers millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars and will be ineffective in realising your goals to protect children.

The aim of the filter is to “combat online risks and help parents and educators protect children from inappropriate material.”

    Some of the online risks you’d like to protect children from are:

  • cyber bullying,
  • cyber predators,
  • child pornography,
  • digital reputation,
  • restricted content.

You’re proposing a mandatory ISP based filter to combat only one of these. In fact, it will only combat a small percentage of these due to the massive amount of content, and the complexity in determining and filtering it. You, and the report, have also stated that it will not combat content on instant messaging, peer-to-peer, email, and many other Internet tools.

For these reasons, the filter will only block a very minute percentage of web sites that contain restricted content.

The trial that was recently conducted listed 1000 web sites. A search for the term “child porn” in Google currently shows about 28,000,000 results. In 2004, “there were 372 million pornographic Web pages…100 thousand Web sites offering illegal child pornography.” ^1

The report also states, “One hundred percent accuracy using these commercial lists is unlikely to be achieved as the content on different commercial lists varies and there is a high rate at which new content is created on the internet.”

How can your filter determine what is restricted content with that number of sites, and how can it keep up with the rapid daily increase?

The report states that there are ways to increase the percentage of coverage, however, “stronger circumvention prevention measures can result in greater degradation of internet performance.”

You’ve recently sited Thailand and China as examples of Internet filtering. Firstly, why do they use filtering? To suppress civil liberties and freedoms. Secondly, how do they accomplish the filtering? According to China Central Television (CCTV), up to 2002, the preliminary work of the Golden Shield Project cost US$800 million. ^2 For a Government to suppress civil liberties, this is probably a reasonable cost. However, it is not a reasonable cost to block a very marginal amount of inappropriate websites.

You’ve also recently mentioned that to filter sites such as YouTube for RC content, that it “would not make it [the filter] a practical solution.” Which again highlights that the filter will only work for a very small fraction of restricted content online.

The report also says that a “technically competent user could, if they wished, circumvent the filtering technology.” Many people acknowledge that children are technically competent users of technology. People determined to get RC content in the hands of children are also likely to be technically competent, making the filter ineffective.

In summary, your proposed Internet filter will not realise the Government’s goal to protect children. It is technically inefficient in filtering the millions of websites that you’d need to include. As such it is only possible to filter a very small percentage of the websites currently containing restricted content, and will not keep up with the rapid growth and change. It will also have no effect on the many other online threats to children.

For this reason I would like you to publicly answer these questions:

  • How do you propose the filter will keep up with the rapid increase in restricted content websites?
  • What percentage of restricted content do you expect the filter to stop?
  • How much will the Internet filter cost to implement, and run?
  • Who will bear these costs?
  • What alternatives are there to the mandatory filter?
  • How many sites will be listed in the blocked list?

Yours faithfully
Richard Giles

^1. http://www.icarecoalition.org/stat.asp
(Internet Pornography Statistics – Internet Filter Review, 2004)
^2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_the_People’s_Republic_of_China

* Letter also emailed to the Hon. Senator Stephen Conroy.

10 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Senator Conroy

  1. “The filter will cost tax payers millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars” in ISP price increases as well as government funds.

    I do feel this letter is less effective in that you repeatedly used the term “Restricted Content” whilst the correct term is actually “Refused Classification material”

  2. Dude, forget the china argument and stick with the Value for money argument, it is the only way to succeed in the wider community. Any time you argue that this filter will turn us into China, millions of people turn off the debate saying “Those Geeky wackos!”. Tell them it will cost them a fortune and not deliver what they want to get from it and people will vote with their votes!
    Just saying!

  3. @Phil: it’s not my argument. It is actually the Senator’s, and I use it to express the costs associated with developing a mandatory filter.

    @anonymous: you really think a term makes it less effective?

    • Whether it was your argument or not, the spin on it is somewhere from wrong to just wildly misleading and is a turn-off. If I was involved in the No clean Feed camp, I would order it never mentioned again as it turns people off the subject! And that is my argument! ;-)

  4. I wonder if it’s worth getting people to send copies of this to send to Senator Conroy. They acknowlesge the filter isn’t going to be 100% effective, in reality it’s going to be a lot closer to 0% than to 100% effective.
    Why are they making decisions on things they know nothing about?

    • It is silly to say they know nothing about this. They know all the pros and cons and they are marketing it as such. The killer argument is the cost doesn’t add up considering the benefits. The argument that people can easily bypass the the filter is a lossing argument on its own! I mean people can easily bypass locks too but we still all use them!

  5. Pingback: Reply from Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy « Richard Giles

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