Archive for April, 2010

Is the Filter really gone??

The news has only just broke so not all the reports are in yet; but it would seem that the Australian Federal Government has officially decided to not submit the Mandatory Internet Filter in either the May or June sessions of Parliament, considering that the Government does not reconvene until the end of August, it is highly unlikely to be passed into law before the next election.

While this would be the latest election promise of the current government put on the back-burner, this is the first that a majority of netizens are not complaining about; aside from other members of the public who have slammed the government for dropping another election promise, completely unaware just how much damage this promise would have caused if it went ahead.

Despite reports yesterday, stating that the Filter was not being submitted to the Senate in the next two sittings, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has come out today, almost in response to the global sigh of relief, to state that the government had no intention of dropping the filter, and planned to still introduce it, though as of yet, there has been no actual timetable.

In a earlier post I commented that when the Filter was Green-lit, its supposed to have already been submitted to the Senate, been approved, and technically should be in operation as we speak. But as we can plainly see, the Government has even less faith in their filter than the rest of the Public does.

Rumours have been running rampant as to why this is the case, whether it is due to international pressure from internet content organizations ranging in size from Leo Laporte’s TWiT Network, to the massive corporations such as Microsoft and Google to drop the Filter; even the US State Department, through the US Ambassador to Australia stating that there are better methods of tracking illegal activities online.

Unfortunately there is very little information about why this has happened; except that it has, so while other people may be jubilant in the belief that the Filter is gone, this seems to be a lot akin to some speculation that I and other bloggers have had, that this might just be an election ploy, drop it now, before the election, be re-elected, and when everyone’s attention has been diverted something else, re-introduce it.

Actually, Conroy, they do…

A few weeks ago, during an interview, Stephen Conroy reaffirmed the Government’s stance to not disclose a list of websites that have been blacklisted; stating that “We don’t disclose when books, music or video games are banned, so why should we do the same with the internet,”

Unfortunately, Minister Conroy, that information is disclosed; when a game, book, movie or CD is banned, all the vendors are notified that they will not be able to sell these items to the public, they in turn tell the public that they cannot purchase these items. It is after all the reasoning behind the R18+ movement, because the community at large is aware that these games are being banned. Despite that once these items become banned, they are often highly sought after, and obtained from other countries, usually Indonesia or New Zealand with little or no legal recourse. Despite the legality of obtaining these banned, the method of notification and obtaining them still exists, and raises the lack of knowledge in the Communications Minister.

The main issue associated with not revealing the blacklist, or even just new additions to the blacklist, is the lack of information about what would happen once a website is on the blacklist. Considering that  a number of companies that exist almost exclusively online, the there is a chance that a harmless online distribution company may end up on the blacklist by way of accident or malicious activity; they  have no detailed legal forum to appeal the decision, or even legislation to inform them that they have even been put on the list.

Another issue that is highlighted by the reluctance to release the blacklist relates more to the effectiveness of the Filter, as opposed to the secrecy. The basic concept of this filter is to block ‘harmful’ content at the ISP level, meaning that you shouldn’t be able to access websites that are on the list. Ideally then, there shouldn’t be a problem with releasing a list of websites that you can’t access, right? Unless, of course the filter isn’t the perfect fix that the Government is promoting it as.

It might, however have something to do with, the Ministers announcement of 16 April, stating that it would not be an offense to bypass the Filter. Yes you read that right, the Mandatory Internet Filter, is mandatory, as long as you actually use it. Now I would have thought something called Mandatory would be, I don’t know, Mandatory, and it being an offense to try and bypass it. It it will be perfectly legal to bypass the filter, a feat that can be accomplished quite readily, by way of VPN or Proxy Servers, negating the actual effectiveness of the filter, to the point where it shouldn’t even be called the Mandatory Internet Filter, but the Optional Internet Filter.

A number of my fellow bloggers have begun to speculate that the Filter is becoming a political foil, something that will be dragged along until just before the next election, only to be dropped; I’m unfortunately a little more sceptical, the Government would not have used the Filter as an election promise in one election only to drop it in the next as an election ploy seems a little redundant in the world of politics