Just last week I reported here on the Australian government’s big dumb and sad plan to filter the Internet for all Australian citizens against illegal and “inappropriate content” with no opt-out — despite the government’s own study telling it that filters are both ineffective and inefficient. Now, the story takes a turn for the truly weird, and looks like there’s some kind of bizarre coverup going on. John Timmer at Ars Technica compares everyone’s stories, and things just aren’t adding up. Also, if you disagreed with my column last week about airlines filtering Internet access, do grasp the implications in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs. Snip:
Australia’s plan to subject every Internet user in the country to mandatory content filtering just keeps getting stranger. Although the current government says it simply inherited the program from its predecessor and that the filtering will be voluntary, it seems intent on continuing the rollout plans even as it has become apparent that some level of filtering will be mandatory. Now, an Australian newspaper has uncovered documents showing that the government minister responsible for the program has ignored performance and accuracy problems with the filters, then tried to suppress criticism of the plan by private citizens.
The filtering plan as it now appears consists of two tiers. One would apply to all Australian Internet access and would block access to content deemed illegal (though how that term will be defined hasn’t yet been disclosed). A second tier would be switched on by default, but users would be allowed to opt-out; this tier would target content inappropriate for children.
Back in June, however, the government’s own Communications and Media Authority issued a report on tests on some of the equipment that might be used to implement the filters. Although the report puts a positive spin on the results—”Hey, the tech has gotten better since we last looked, in 2005!”—it’s hard to get around the fact that the filters simply aren’t that great. Five of the six filters degraded network performance by over 20 percent, and two simply hammered the network, dropping throughput by more than 75 percent.
That poor performance came without stellar filtering performance, either. Half the devices let more than five percent of the blacklist sites through anyway, and all devices had measurable percentages of false positives. And all of these problems came simply while trying to filter web traffic; FTP, P2P, and other protocols would all flow through the filters unimpeded.
If you read our earlier coverage on this matter, you’d see that one of the primary sources of information on the filtering program is a very unhappy ISP employee named Mark Newton, who is speaking on his own behalf, rather than that of his employer, Internode. Now, Australian newspaper The Age is reporting that the ministry responsible for the program has contacted a trade group that includes Internode to request that the company keep a tighter leash on Newton. (…read more, arstechnica.com)