As a bit of background Bernadette McMenamin (chief executive of child protection group Child Wise) seems to be a big supporter of the Australian Senator Conroy's plans for mandatory internet filtering. Back in January this year, McMenamin suggested that no decent person would oppose Conroy's filters to protect the children. A couple of weeks ago she said:
"[T]hose who are aware [of all the facts] are, in effect, advocating child pornography."
I am not advocating child pornography. This is my response.
I am an IT professional and have been for almost 10 years now. Understanding how computers work, how networks work, how ISPs work and in particular understanding what is and is not possible is an important part of my job. I'm also a member, and an executive member of the System Administrators' Guild of Australia. This guild exists to cater to the needs of the people who manage everything from their company's machines, through to networks, through to ISPs. The members of this guild, collectively, know pretty much all there is to know about how networks, computers and ISPs work in Australia; and are very able to identify what is and is not possible.
I object to Senator Conroy's internet filtering proposals on the following grounds:
- It cannot work. It really can't. It's not technologically feasible. If there was some magic way to only filter out the bad stuff and not accidentally filter out good stuff (or instead accidentally let through bad stuff) that magic way would be usable to avoid spam. Filtering will make it harder for innocent people to accidentally find the bad stuff (although I'd contend that it's pretty hard to "accidentally" find it in the first place). On the other hand, those who want to find it, will still find a way. They'll use Tor, or a VPN hosted overseas or some other method not being blocked.
- Even if it could work, what would be blocked? Those serving illegal content move their content around. Today it might be on www.illegalporn.com and tomorrow it'll have moved to www.i113g41pr0n.com and the next day it'll be somewhere else. How can a black list possibly keep up?
- If we know the sites which need to be blocked, why can't we just spend the money on a) having them taken down and b) prosecuting the people who created them in the first place? Don't we have international treaties for this purpose? Preventing people from seeing child porn doesn't reduce the abuse to the child, although I concede that it might (hopefully) discourage such an interest in the first place.
Having these objections does not mean I'm advocating child pornography and I'm really sick of you and Senator Conroy saying that it does. I understand the technological issues very well and if there was a good, workable solution, I'd be putting it forward. Anyone can see that there's a lot of money in coming up with a good, workable solution, but instead of throwing up hundreds of ideas to solve the issue; the IT community at large is a) asking for more details because what we have so far doesn't look workable or b) criticising the plan because what we've been told so far doesn't look workable. The IT community at large, the ISPs, the systems and network administrators aren't advocating child pornography; they're not arguing for a free internet at any cost; they are giving a consistent message: this cannot work. Any attempt to go ahead with the plan will result in a slower internet for everyone without preventing anyone with any access to a technical professional from obtaining the material they want.
All the best,