The cost of censorship

Mikey 11 comments
The cost of censorship

Here we go again. Why is it the same people who find composing an email to be a technically challenging milestone are the same people who propose the most ludicrous and near impossible technical legislation regarding our beloved Internet?

Update:29th March 2006: It looks like Liberal are still keen on this idea, despite conceding that Australia can only enforce the removal of only about 10per cent of prohibited material because most offensive content is hosted by overseas. In this author's humble opinion, this is a colossal waste of time and resources.

In January of 2005, a NSW Supreme Court judge called for the Internet to be purged of any material that could influence jurors who might have wanted to conduct their own investigations into a trial. The mere suggestion sent shockwaves of laughter all over the world.

And who can forget Richard Alston, our former ill-fated communications Minister, who initially dismissed broadband as nothing more than a platform for distributing porn, and that an Australia wide rollout would be a costly waste of money. This earned his place in Australian history as the greatest Luddite ever.

And now labour party leader Kim Beazley is proposing that if elected, he would force all Australian ISP's to filter violent and sexual web site content. Did you hear that? Is that an earth quake I hear? No it's the familiar shockwaves of laughter starting to spread again.

Unless the government is willing to pay every ISP to deploy filtering on their servers, then the ISP will wear the cost. And you can bet the cost will eventually be passed on to the consumer; for a service that they might not even want. Why should subscribers have to pay a premium for adult content filtering when they may not even have children?

The cost would be so staggeringly huge that the Labour party would have to declare bankruptcy if they were ever brave enough to attempt this.

What Mr Beazley does not realise, is that filtering at the user's end is far more effective and less costly, and not mandatory. The further you move away from the user's computer, the more difficult and expensive it is to filter content.

It simply does not make any sense to force ISP's to filter content when the user is quite capable of doing it themselves, if they choose. This diagram (1:4,674,221,559 scale) demonstrates. Bearing in mind that for every single ISP, there are probably at least 1000 web sites of objectionable content.

From this we can see the user has the option to filter his incoming traffic if he chooses. Under Mr Beazley's proposal, all ISP's would be filtered regardless of how many people want content filtering. This is probably the most un-resourceful method of filtering adult content.

And this is only for web based filtering. Applying any sort of control over P2P or other closed networks is actually impossible. I would hate to be the guy tasked with creating an algorithm that could sniff P2P packets and assemble them to ascertain if they contained flesh toned colours or not. This could happen inside the script of any Hollywood hack, but not in real life.

Besides Mr Beazley's proposal being a costly, logistical and never guaranteed to be 100% effective and easily bypassed nightmare, the bigger question is 'why does he want to take the responsibility away from the parents?'

The last time I checked, Australia was not a communist society. I do not want the government deciding what I or my children can and can't have access to. If I wanted that, I would move to China.

As a parent with 2 young girls, the older of which already started to take an interest in the 'comploota' months ago, I have a lot more confidence in my own ability to 'segregate' a certain part of the internet for her curiosity than I do in the ability of any government or ISP.

Having said that, software has been available for many years that has been designed for the very purpose of stopping Johnny Internet from being exposed to pictures of . And if Internet Censorship is a concern for any parent, then they will take the appropriate action.

I think we can safely chalk this one up to either a mediocre attempt to win political favour with parents for the next election (although a little premature), or another case of a politician speaking before he thinks - or at least speaking before he gets some solid advice from people who actually understand the Internet.

My sides are hurting.
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Mike T

Thursday 23rd March 2006 | 12:42 AM there something the politicians wish to distract our, the general public, attention from again? Like...widespread union concerns over the recently implemented IR guidelines, or public dissatisfaction over Australia's continued involvement in the American-Iraq war, or North Korea and Iran's unwillingness to budge on their nuclear policies, or the continued spread of avian flu throughout our neighbouring regions, or the overt racism and religious intolerance that is being force-fed by the media into our society...and so on and so on...?


Forgive my cynicism, but every time world events get a major shakeup, or there is socio-political unrest at home, what do the pollies turn to as a tired old fall-back to shift the attentions of the general populace from far more important issues? Yep, censorship. And the sad fact of the matter is...the average person in the street doesn't give a hoot about censorship. One day the pollies will do something sensible, like address issues that are important to the Australian people -- instead of playing the "blame-game" and trying to divert our attention from those issues with trivialities...

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Thursday 23rd March 2006 | 09:53 AM

Actually the research from the past 2 years shows that most people do have an opinion about censorship and large majority are not in favour of it, particularly when it comes to internet censorship. Even the slightest censorship can have dire effects on business and others who rely on the internet for thier business or livelihood. But I dont think this is a case of beazely trying to divert attention away from more pressing issues - he hardly has any influence (if any) over the decisions made by Liberal party anyway. All he can do is disagree with Mr Howard on every policy and try to give us a reason to vote for him with flaky proposals like this - at a time when howard is loosing a little credibility by trying to divert attention away from the wheat scandal and downplay it. Its the perfect time for labour to play the family card.

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Sunday 26th March 2006 | 11:46 PM

The fact is, it's simply impossible. Not expensive, or impractical, it's impossible. How do you filter porn? What is porn? First, you need to define it. Ok, let's say anything that would rate "R" at the movies. Ok, sure, movies all need to be rated, which takes time, so now to be fair you have to apply that to each "website". Ok, we could fast-track things and say that anything meeting certain requirements, let's say nudity of any kind. Ok fine. Forget the medical, or cultural (arts) implications and let's look at the techinical. How do you filter porn? Here's the truth: you can't. Because porn is something to the human eye, not to a computer. A computer cannot tell that a particular series of binary codes equals a nipple and you can't make it. There's too many possibilities, too many differing edge colours, backgrounds, etc.
So you wind up trying the "net nanny" approach, where you simply assume that if a word is present on a page, it's a bad page or you ask webpages to "opt in" and declare their naughtiness. The sheer stupidity of expecting people to help you out here is mind boggling.

Not to mention something everyone seems to forget... the WWW is not the internal... it's a small part of the internet. How do you block porn on different ports? Scan all traffic for all known file types, then assemble all those packets and see what's formed, assuming you can decrypt it and understand the required codecs? The processing power required would exceed that which exists. It would also require that if you downloaded a file type (say avi) that can't be viewed until complete, that your download as an end user couldn't even start until it had finished at the ISP level, being inspected, then passed on to you, thus halving (at best) your efficiency.

I really wish people in public office had a requirement to know something about the topic they're speaking on. Reminds me of Helen Clark, prime minsiter of New Zealand, who recently said, on banning a South Park episode "I haven't seen the show and I don't know what it's about... but I understand it's offensive to women".. WTF?!? Usually, if you ban something, you should at least know what it's about! Still, unlike fatto Beazley, at least she had the courage (stupidity) to admit she's has no idea what she's talking about

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L33t Guy

Tuesday 28th March 2006 | 10:19 AM

Freaking hilarious! Our pollies sure are dumb. Rodney is right it is impossible. If they ever actually committed themselves to doing this, it would be a token gesture at best and quickly covered up as soon as they realised just how wrong they were to promise something so fantastically unattainable.

I would like to see someone write software that can successfully make a distinction between a non offensive photo of a woman in a bikini and a photo of a fully clothed woman who is exposing a single breast. The latter being the offensive image, but the former more likely to be filtered.

Porn is something only humans can decipher, whereas computers are ignorant to illicit arrangements of pixels.

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Dave Bowman

Thursday 30th March 2006 | 09:48 AM

More coverage on,7204,18623702%5E15306%5E%5Enbv%5E,00.html">this Australian IT page. They are only interested in making porn harder for children to 'stumble upon' by default. Which is not a bad idea but f*cking expensive. They are estimating 45 million to set up and ongoing maintenance of 33 million dollars anually. Thats one heck of a maintenance cost, especially for something that is only partially effective. And as Mike already mentioned we will be the ones paying for it. I for one do not want to be taxed for a half arsed service that only partially works. Set aside its a service I dont even care to have. I wonder if they will filter web sites that teach you how to bypass the filtering!

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Thursday 30th March 2006 | 10:03 AM

The article also mentions something that anyone in this industry knows. The client side software already widely available is more effective that what the gov is proposing. Knowing this, what exactly is the point?

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man with no name

Saturday 15th April 2006 | 07:54 PM

I think this is already in full swing in America right now. An entire segregated internet where content is controlled by the ISP. Its called AOL

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Tuesday 18th April 2006 | 09:39 PM

Manwithnoname says: "Its called AOL"

Nice 1 :-) We like to call it Lamo-L

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Friday 21st April 2006 | 01:12 AM

whats wrong with AOL? Laugh

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Friday 21st April 2006 | 04:06 AM

What's wrong with AOL? Well, it's slow, it sucks your computer resources dry and take over your PC, etc etc. Ask the geniuses more about it.

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a q u i l a

Monday 24th April 2006 | 09:51 PM

good luck trying to filter pr0n in any country. where there is a demand, there is a way.Sad

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