Nationwide Firewall in Australia Slows Speeds and Free Speech

By October 30, 2008

Australia recently formulated a plan for nationwide internet service provider filtering. The filtering products are designed to block certain sites deemed illegal or inappropriate by the government: the "Plan for Cyber Safety." The Australian Communications and Media Authority (AMCA) conducted tests of six filtering products. According to the BBC , communications minister Stephen Conroy's aim is to create a safer online environment for children. The government's exact plans are not completely verified. Senator Conroy originally stated that Australians will not be subjected to a mandatory filter. However, a network engineer from one of Australia's leading net suppliers, Internode, argued in a public forum that there would be two black-lists: one for children, the other for everyone.

Senator Conroy has since indicated that there would be a two-tier system: a 'mandatory one that would block all "illegal material" and an optional tier that would block material deemed unsuitable for children, such as pornography.'

Online free speech advocates fear what they refer to as "censorship creep." The filtering system may begin to include more terms to block as time passes. While the initial target is child pornography, lobbyists could sway the government to ban other Web sites in corporate interests.

Some products have less than two percent network degradation in tests of filter performance, some over 75 percent. Filtering systems have a tendency to "overblock," similar to an overly strict spam filter, blocking legal material. Without site context, the filters instead look at words, text-to-image ratio, and instances of skin color.

The filters maybe operate with 88-97 percentage success rate, but all the software will not deter determined users. As is the case with much filtering software, the general user experience will suffer from slower speeds and poor performance. The sanctioned material will still be available to those who know how to circumvent the Firewall.

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