Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Should the government filter the internet?

The Australian government is at it again, trying to clean up the wild, wild West of the Internet. They want to implement a "mandatory ban" on 1,000 URLs (the web address in our browser).

The proposed 1,000 URLs are, of course, so objectionable that no decent human being could possibly justify wanting to visit them. But that's beside the point. The question is whether individuals or the government should filter the internet - I have never visited nor ever will visit any of those 1,000 URLs. I doubt anyone else on this debate forum has or will. Within Australia, there are probably only a very small number of people who visit sites of that nature. So what's the point of banning them?

This is a wedge issue, an attempt to get a "foot in the door" on controlling the broader internet. The problem is that ISP filtering - what the AU "internet filter" attempts to implement - is not even close to enough. Any website on the blacklist can mirror itself (make another URL that accesses all the same content), or an interested Australian can use a Web anonymizer, Tor, or other proxy services, some of which will encrypt all traffic making it impossible for any 3rd party to "filter" the content.

To really filter the internet means not only blacklisting a set of wholly objectionable URLs, but constantly updating the blacklist to target any potential mirrors, blacklisting web anonymizers, banning peer-to-peer networks, banning the use of cryptography (which is itself problematic... define "cryptography"!), ad infinitum, ad nauseum. China makes it simple by simply criminalizing any attempt to effectively circumvent the intent of its filtering policy. Do we really want to implement those kind of "intent" laws here in the West? Laws whose application is purely subjective, whose extent is undefined?

We're talking about stopping a very small handful of people within Australia from accessing just 1,000 (out of millions) URLs. Who does this benefit? Who does it help? What good is it? And what cost (in dollars and freedoms) is it worth to stop those few people from accessing those few websites? How far are you willing to go? Maybe Sen. Jay Rockefeller's ruminations are right, "Would it have been better if we had never invented the internet and had to use paper and pencil?" Perhaps the Internet is just too inherently evil and the whole thing should just be scrapped.

And check out this little gem... now the internet is actually attacking national leaders! The internet must be controlled before somebody gets killed by it!

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