Thursday, December 24, 2009

One very lucid mad cow

This comment on Crikey ( from "Mad Cow" was so fricking well done (no pun intended) that I have quoted in full, without permission, the original text in order that as many people as possible can read it. If the original author would prefer that I did not, s/he is welcome to contact me and I will remove it.

Well done, Sir/Madam - a damn fine read!

Jon Seymour - who is very definitely not the Mad Cow.

Let me cut through this entire debate in the following way.

Senator Conroy has another option. That is to abandon the classification law and instead to base the blacklist on the following:

1. The blacklist is based on laws that clearly and objectively define illegality. We know exactly what this means and if this were the case, a host of objections to the content of the list would vanish.

2. The blacklist is compiled by law enforcement, subject to independent oversight and maintenance and subject to judicial review. This dispenses with issues of secrecy, personal taste and corruption.

Now, what is striking about this entire debate, Senator Conroy, is the fact that given this alternative, you don’t grab it with both hands. You clearly are sacrificing your Party’s good will, and if you are absolutely honest about wanting to block ONLY illegal content, you have absolutely no escape from this proposition.

Imagine if the Senate were to move an amendment to that effect - to divorce the blacklist from the classification system and to give it to those best able to judge illegality - the police and the judiciary.

How would you vote, Senator Conroy?

Dear reader, it is very obvious that this entire debate is built upon one central lie. And that is that the Senator wants to block only illegal material. No more, no less. But the reality is that if this were the case he would neither inherit from the censorship laws, nor would he hand the task to public servants whose task is to judge taste. He would have no option but to abandon classification law and to vote for the above amendment.

The sad thing is, that to the extent that blacklisting child porn and violent web sites has any effect at all (it will have next to none - and I’ll explain why in a moment) the objective of child protection will be endangered by cluttering the same list with what is mostly harmless rubbish that does no harm at all to normal adults. Indeed, the bigger you make the list, the more you make it a target for deliberate leaks, and the more you make it easier to reverse engineer the list - and in so doing you simply raise the probability of publishing the addresses of (what were) child porn sites.

Senator Conroy has all along tried to lead people to the inference that if something is banned, not only is it “bad” but it is “illegal”. Now that he is losing this debate, when it is pointed out that most RC content is legal to view, in most places (with some obvious exceptions), what he does instead is point out that RC content is illegal to distribute.

What that argument actually does does is to highlight the objectionable nature of the classification law itself. That we have laws that stop adults from seeing things (and in order to see them you have to obtain them) that are not illegal or harmful but are simply what some other people don’t want us to see. This is the core of what censorship means. The internet allowed people to bypass the blocks on distribution of RC material, and this is precisely what offends those who wish protect us from impure thoughts.

The movement to oppose gay marriage despite overwhelming public support and the campaign to extend censorship law into the internet, have something in common. They reflect the angst of those whose religion tells them to “correct” the thoughts and behaviour of non believers and if necessary to interfere with the laws of the land.

Senator Conroy, I am sure you have read “The High Price of Heaven” by David Marr. How the Church has repeatedly tried to interfere with the State, about the victimisation of homosexuals, and about the driving forces behind censorship. I suggest you have a long hard think and realise that even if the Christian Lobby has votes, you’re still here to govern for the majority.

Now to the technical detail. It would be a reasonable guess to surmise that within the current blacklist, those sites that are, or more correctly were, of child pornography, were submitted via law enforcement channels. Its also well known that when such sites become known to law enforcement they are promptly taken down. So to the extent that the blacklist contains child pornography or other sites that are genuinely illegal, it is also a fact that such sites are almost certainly defunct even before they even get a chance to be on the list. And to my knowledge, no URL on the leaked blacklists pointed to a functional child porn web site.

The next absurdity in this whole debate is the fact that the blacklist as it stands is really a sample. Its based mostly on public submission. The fact is that if you were to gather together the entire content of the web and send it to ACMA (even ignoring the prompt mass resignations) the material that would theoretically be classified as RC (or in this case might merely be written up as potentially RC but not yet submitted for formal classification) would amount to conservatively, some tens to hundreds of thousands of URLs.

No filter is capable of this task. The reason is simple. Those filters that appeared to do well in the trials rely upon features built into common routers, where traffic to certain IP addresses is directed or copied to a separate interface. The problem here is that every single IP packet address has to at least be compared to all of those IP addresses in the list. As this list grows, the router reaches hard wired limits. And without going into even further detail (my formal training is in computer engineering) you’re either going to get a massive speed degradation, or the filter will break, or the router will simply cease to function. And the limits will typically be reached at a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of addresses.

The filter trials were purposely designed not to expose such limits. The filter trials were purposely designed not to expose a number of other technical limitations.

Those of us who understand the technology know quite well that the filter will not scale. It cannot even remotely serve its stated purpose.

Senator Conroy what you are doing robs resources from law enforcement, makes life harder for genuine child protection agencies, muddies the issue, distracts the public debate from important issues such as parental education and so poisons the well that even if you now propose to merely filter only illegal material and turn your back on the censorship law, that it will be hard for people to believe you.

What you are doing Sir, requires an astonishing act of sheer gall. You’re trying to sell a lie to three groups of people:

You’re telling one group of people that RC material is all illegal, and if you can’t do that you’re trying to fool as many people as possible that RC material if it isn’t illegal, is at least horribly objectionable, nasty and perhaps immoral. No, it isn’t

You’re telling another group of people that it will be safe to leave their young kids alone with the internet. This is not only a hoax, but a cruel one.

and at the same time…

You’re telling yet another group of people - those who see it as their god given right to protect us from ourselves - that the filter will stamp out all the horribly morally objectionable things that a lot of us just plain enjoy. And when they finally figure out that the net is bigger, much much bigger, than your filter - you can guess what the Christian Lobby is going to do next…

Originally written by "Mad Cow" as a comment on Crikey. Reproduced here without permission.

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