Secret moves to censor the net

Written By: - Date published: 10:27 am, July 16th, 2009 - 29 comments
Categories: interweb - Tags:

Does it seem odd to you that on March 20th 2009 the Minister for IT & Comms, Mr Steven Joyce, said the following:

“We have been following the internet filtering debate in Australia but have no plans to introduce something similar here. … The technology for internet filtering causes delays for all internet users. And unfortunately those who are determined to get around any filter will find a way to do so. Our view is that educating kids and parents about being safe on the internet is the best way of tackling the problem.”

While at the same time the Department of Internal Affairs had already finished trialling their internet filter and are currently pushing ahead with implementation:

“The Department’s compliance activity for 2009/2010 includes the implementation of a website filtering system for New Zealand. To date the development and operation of the trial system has been met from within the existing budget. Budget 2009 provides for a one-off capital contribution of $150,000 for the purchase of the software on which the filtering system is based.”

The question has to be be: was he poorly informed or lying?
Thomas Beagle

________________________________

On a similiar note, No Right Turn strongly criticises the secretive way in which DIA is implementing this net censorship. While no-one objects to possession of the heinious materials that the DIA is trying to block being illegal, we do have a right to a say on how any censorship is set up and what sites will be blocked. Secret government is rarely good government and is an invitation for bad government.

The vid below targets similar censorship in Australia

Thomas has an excellent Q&A on the issue here.

29 comments on “Secret moves to censor the net”

  1. Chris G 1

    I seriously hope this does not continue any further. Web filtering in my opinion opens the door to be manipulated by lobbyists and policymakers engaged in a political war but not fighting for the rights of any of us, instead for their warped interests.

    It is a dangerous step to be taking and should be met with concern from everyone – including the tories

  2. BLiP 2

    More “Daddy State” . . . just what we need.

    • infused 2.1

      It was in testing under Labour govt. Try again.

      • Ari 2.1.1

        Does it matter who it started under and who it finishes under? It’s a stupid idea that sets up a watchdog with no accountability to stop something that is not a problem in the name of moralistic “we have to be seen doing something!” stupidity.

        Stop trying to score points and actually think of the ramifications of one server collecting the IPs of anyone who visits a site and suppressing said site from casual internet users with no official complaints process. Can you not see how that undermines freedom of speech?

  3. felix 4

    So sick of this Nanny State government meddling with the minutiae of ordinary kiwi’s lives.

    Compulsory folic acid that I don’t even really need?

    Slowing down my internets when I don’t even really LIKE child porn?

    Never got those “north of $50 a week” tax cuts to make it all worthwhile, either.

    • Maggie 4.1

      This may come as a total surprise, felix, but the world doesn’t revolve around you.

    • Ari 4.2

      You know it won’t actually slow you down unless the domain you’re visiting is on their list, right? Jus’ saying.

      • felix 4.2.1

        Really?

        I’m no expert but I would imagine that for a filter to work, each and every URL request would have to be compared to a list before the file was served.

        Wouldn’t that slow everyone down?

  4. Maynard J 5

    Thomas: Thanks for this, interesting reading. If indeed DIA got $150,000 for it, the other question would be whether Joyce read the Budget – although I would accept that he was distracted by the vast sums being spent upon roads that he may not have noticed this sum.

  5. The $150k was included in a $611k for “Censorship Enforcement Activities”.

  6. Tom Semmens 7

    This system has been in place for a long time now as an enforcement tool in New Zealand. As I hear, anything upwards of a dozen staff in (I think) Internal Affairs are detailed to do nothing else but detect child porn. Have you never wondered why so many international kiddie porn busts have had a significant New Zealand component in the detection of the crime?

    The problem isn’t the current manifestation of the scheme, which technically isn’t filtering. When a site is detected and investigated by a child porn unit it is blocked after appropriate information for prosecutions is gathered.

    “Filtering” ah la as Mr Joyce seems to be thinking of it and as in a lot of the foreign schemes involves identifying sites based on things like keywords, so a lot of the controversy occurs when, say, the Kansas School Board filters anything that contains the word “Lesbian.”

    Child pornographers are not stupid, but like most criminals they are not as clever as they think either. Keyword filtering is almost 100% ineffective nowadays, as these sick bastards now tend to congregate in word-of-mouth, password protected file sharing sites and use fake file extensions and innocent sounding file names to peddle their material.

    As I understand the system at the moment here in NZ all blocked sites are manually checked by a real human after various – secret – algorithms or patterns of behaviour are detected. I believe that NZ’s dedicated anti-child porn team often infiltrate the secret file sharing and torrent sites and this is what leads to so many world-wide busts. It is right that using these methods certain things – like the list of blocked sites or the patterns of behaviour used to detect criminal activity – are kept a state secret.

    However, such a dedicated crime fighting unit that uses software as a TOOL in its battle is quite different from implementing an ISP wide filtering system. I have yet to hear a convincing argument for such filtering that goes beyond the convenience of the enforcement agencies. As Idiot/Savant says, it is inevitable that mission creep will occur and eventually the system will be used not for law enforcement but as a form of morality police.

    • Chris G 7.1

      “Kansas School Board filters anything that contains the word “Lesbian.’

      Yeah or things like large ISP’s filtering political activism
      eg. AT&T beeped out parts of a streaming Pearl Jam concert when anti-George Bush sentiments were expressed.

      Here

    • Ari 7.2

      Denying requests based on domain/subdomain and page URL is most definitely technically “filtering”.

      Keyword filtering is almost 100% ineffective nowadays

      This is not keyword filtering. This is a master list, and there’s no indications of how they’re filling it. They are filtering requests to ISPs to display certain webpages based on their list, not searching for keywords.

      I have yet to hear a convincing argument for such filtering that goes beyond the convenience of the enforcement agencies.

      This system isn’t even used for enforcement so that justification is complete crock anyway. It’s censorship and should be treated as such.

  7. We have to remember that any possibility to filter web-pages – no matter what the initial good intention may have been – opens the door to abuse and further spreading of censorship.

    This debate is not at all about whether child-porn is good or bad. A similar debate takes place in other countries as well and it all boils down to the same:

    * You can’t just stumble across child-porn on the Internet. As a previous poster mentioned, these sites are traded by word of mouth and are mostly closed and password protected. Therefore, blocking access to these sites DOES NOT WORK in prevent normal people or even children from seeing child-porn, since they wouldn’t see it anyway.

    * It is still quite easy to overcome even this kind of filtering attempt. Thus, those who really want child-porn can still get it with very little effort. Therefore, this kind of filtering DOES NOT WORK in really preventing access to these sites for those intent on really seeing it.

    * If the DIA or whoever is in power really would want to stop the child-porn that’s out on the Internet they would only have to do one very simple thing: Call the hoster on which these images are stored and ask them to shut down the account. Believe it or not, but that works remarkably well: Child-porn is illegal in almost all countries. The hosting companies (no matter in which country) often have no idea what someone has stored in an account on one of their servers. Therefore, if they find out about it, they don’t want to have anything to do with it and will very quickly respond by shutting it down. This was tested with some of those leaked child-porn lists in other countries that use child-porn as a reason to start filtering. But instead of very effectively removing this account from the Internet with a simple phone call or email, the government instead prefers to put a filtering infrastructure in place.

    Now consider all of this: It doesn’t really stop child-porn, and a much more simple, low-tech approach to getting rid of it is available, but not used. Why is this?

    Because child-porn is used (here and in other countries) just as a flimsy alibi to install a ubiquitous government controlled censorship infrastructure.

    Think about the children! That is the killer-argument with which these attempts are justified and the public is pacified.

    As long as we are talking about the technical merits of the system, or waste our time by discussing minutiae in the definition of the word ‘filter’, or talk about how in principle we should agree to this since nobody likes child-porn, we are just distracting ourselves from the real issue and are playing in the hands of those who want to make censorship widely accepted.

    Remember: Once the technical possibility is there, the calls to use it for other purposes will start. There will be lobbying by all sorts of groups (some openly, some secretly) to block more and more. Already happens in other countries, so why should it be different here? How about ‘killer games’? Let’s block that as well. How about ‘sites critical to the filtering effort’? Let’s block that, too. How about (insert controversial subject you care about here)? Let’s block that, too.

    Fight the beginnings, is all I can say. By focusing on what the majority finds to be repulsive, they actually have us agree to give up our freedoms. That’s how it always starts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came

  8. Draco T Bastard 9

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/03/19/2520591.htm

    As well as child pornography, the list of 2,395 pages also includes online gambling sites, YouTube links, regular porn and fetish sites, and websites of a tour operator, Queensland boarding kennel and a Queensland dentist. It also includes the Wikileaks website.

    Emphasis added

    Such filtering will be used to curtail political discussion and should be stopped immediately. It has no place in a democracy and it won’t stop child porn as, as has been said, the only way to find child porn sites is through word of mouth.

    • Foo Bar 9.1

      Better yet: The government actually knows where those child-porn sites are, but chooses NOT to simply call the providers and let them take the site down. As I said in my comment and also here ( http://www.geekzone.co.nz/foobar/6637 ) this has been tested in other countries: One of those leaked lists was used. They called up 10 of those ISPs that inadvertently hosted child-porn and within minutes the stuff was removed from the Internet.

      The possibilities are there, it’s easily to do, but it’s not done, because then the convenient reason for introduction of this scheme – the one reason that society can collectively feel repulsed by – is gone.

    • Noko 9.2

      Incidentally, there is a nice article on WikiLeaks about the child pornography industry. It exposes a lot of the political posturing, while giving insight into the industry.

      Another interesting factor is, however abhorrent child pornography is, it has been shown that when porn was legalised in many countries the incidents of sexual assault fell, so it’s no great stretch to believe that making child pornography harder to access for the sick fucks out that there that enjoy it could lead to an increase of sexual assaults on children. Food for though.

  9. Anita 10

    While no-one objects to possession of the heinious materials that the DIA is trying to block being illegal, we do have a right to a say on how any censorship is set up and what sites will be blocked.

    Do we?

    Objectionable material is defined in law, we have a right to have a say about that law, but I struggle to find an argument that says we have a right to have a say about the interpretation of the law.

  10. felix 11

    The material is defined in law, but what does that have to do with challenging the way the restrictions on that material are enforced?

    • Anita 11.1

      Dammit, that’s what happens when I edit comments after I write them 🙂

      I only mean to say “do we?” about the right to have a say about which sites are blocked. I totally agree about the how.

      • Ari 11.1.1

        I think any justifiable censorship would allow appeals for changing content, and would require open review of anything they classify as restricted or banned. Neither of those conditions are filled here. *shrug*

        Most certainly however, this needed a law to have been passed in order for the go-ahead, and it’s undermining parliamentary sovereignty (as the DIA is not empowered to censor the internet yet) and legislative process.

        • Anita 11.1.1.1

          Are you arguing that everyone should be able to freely and without any controls or monitoring view material classified as objectionable so that they can argue that it was wrongly classified?

          • Foo Bar 11.1.1.1.1

            No, I argue that everyone should be able to see whatever they want and say whatever they want and that the government doesn’t have the right to censor any of this.

            It’s supposedly a ‘free’ society we live in. Freedom always comes at a price. Dealing with filth and human excrement like those sexually abusing children requires education, not censorship. We can all take responsibility for our own action. And I mean: Action, because what the government does is merely avoiding actually doing anything about it, while filtering bits, which means nothing to the children that are being abused! Someone else said: Children are not abused on the Internet but in their homes and families. That’s exactly right. If the government would want to shut down child-porn, they would just have to call up the provides. But they don’t, because they rather start wide-spread censorship.

            Nobody says that child-porn is a good thing. Anyone possessing it may as well be prosecuted to the full extend of the law. But here it is merely used as the alibi to install something rather terrible: A full blown censorship and monitoring infrastructure, government controlled and with secret black lists.

            As I said before, the Internet as a communication medium is too important and a revolution like nothing before in mankind’s history, exactly because of its uncontrolled nature. Governments don’t like things they can’t control.

            • Anita 11.1.1.1.1.1

              So you’re saying everyone should have a right to view everything, but you’re also fine with the fact that viewing some things is illegal and will be prosecuted?

              Can you please explain the difference, in your view, between preventing someone viewing child porn, and allowing someone to view child porn and then immediately prosecuting them.

  11. Sounds like it would be easier to shut down these sites than filter them – which begs the question of why the heck aren’t we taking that approach?

    Article in the Herald today mentioning Thomas Beagle (perhaps due to this post?):
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10584982

    Strange that the Minister’s office didn’t want to comment.

  12. felix 13

    “why the heck aren’t we taking that approach?”

    I suspect because that’s not the true objective.

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