This post is by Michael Wyres, is a fifteen-year veteran of the IT industry who has covered roles in the public and private sectors across network engineering, support and development. He currently works as a VoIP solutions developer for a private company in Melbourne. This article was first published on his blog, Musings of a Geek, and is re-published here with his permission.
opinion About a year ago, Telstra '” along with Optus and iPrimus '” agreed to 'voluntarily' apply a version of the government's mandatory internet filter to the connections of all of their customers. They agreed to 'voluntarily' filter out at least a certain subset (mainly child pornography) of the Australian Communications and Media Authority's blacklist, the complete contents of which is the basis of the mandatory filter plan.
The problem is, while Telstra, Optus, and iPrimus have 'voluntarily' agreed to apply this reduced version of the government's filter, the customers of these ISPs have not been given any 'voluntary' rights as to whether or not their connection(s) come under this 'voluntary' plan.
It is not 'voluntary'.
Now, to be perfectly clear, nobody with a right mind (myself included) would ever condone/support the production and/or dissemination of child pornography on the internet or elsewhere. The problem with the internet filtering plan '” whether 'voluntary' or 'mandatory' '” is that it is only designed to block requests to an identified list of websites.
The bottom line is that this kind of material is generally not spread on websites. There is ample evidence that the sick puppies sharing this stuff around are doing it through email, via file sharing networks, and newsgroups - and over encrypted channels too. The style of filter being applied does not restrict these distribution methods even in the slightest '” and almost moronically, the government has said that there will be no penalty for bypassing the filter.
So why do it?
The methods the sickos use to get access to this kind of material don't leave log files around for people to check. The internet traffic flows they create are not definitive evidence that they are accessing this kind of material, and the filter does nothing to prevent them from accessing it. But the real problem is not the distribution of child pornography. A JPEG image or an MPEG movie in and of itself does not hurt anyone. It is the content that has hurt someone '” the children in it.
If you waved a magic wand, and magically every electronically stored piece of child pornography in the world disappeared, that would be great. If a month later someone was able to obtain some online, this means only one thing.
Somewhere in the world, sometime in that month, a child has been abused by someone '” mentally, emotionally, physically, and sexually '” and it was captured for distribution. It is this production that must stop. You can't stop child pornography by trying to hide it. You have to stop it from being produced. And the internet filter doesn't even hide it '” it might only blur it a little bit.
There have been countless prosecutions in regards to online child pornography of late:
Teacher among 11 charged over child porn Corio teen nabbed in FBI porn sting Troll jailed for posting child porn on tribute pages for dead children Online child porn warning as five more charged 35 computers seized in child pornography raid Man jailed after downloading child porn
I could go on, but do you notice the pattern? These cretins are being identified and prosecuted. The SOURCE of this rubbish is being identified, and children are being rescued. All without an internet filter. A filter would force these people further underground, and make their detection even harder '” making it harder to rescue these kids from peril. A filter could actually further entrench the child pornography trade, and condemn more children to such abuse.
That should be the focus. The children.
Until January this year, I had been a loyal Telstra mobile customer since 1996 '” almost fifteen years. I've never had any problems with their service; it has always been reliable, and in the advent of mobile broadband, their coverage and throughput is second to none.
It is interesting to note that Australia's two biggest ISPs '” Telstra and Optus '” have more to gain than any other ISPs from a participation deal with the upcoming National Broadband Network. Is implementing the 'voluntary' filter a requirement for those deals to be made? Telstra is gaining $11 billion, and Optus is gaining $800m through their NBN deals. I still believe that the filter is ultimately doomed, but this is food for thought.
The bottom line is that the telcos have now taken sides with a plan that is useless and unwarranted, and had I still been with Telstra '” I would have no choice to opt-out of their filtering. Once you start on the path of censorship, and the mechanisms are in place, freedom of speech and democracy take a hit. Bit by bit, the powers that be will identify more and more content as worthy of 'protecting' us from, and one day it will go too far '” and it will be much harder to rectify than it was to implement.
I cannot and will not be a party to that, and that is why I left Telstra.
Image credit: mtellin, Creative Commons