Surmounting the Great Firewall of Australia

It seems silly to rehash days-old news — critics have piled the heat on the Rudd government for even suggesting the idea of a compulsory Internet filtering system. Of course, there’s no doubting that the proposal is blatant censorship, putting us on the same pedestal as China, Iran, North Korea and whichever other country is making hopeful strides towards the Axis of Evil. There’s also the backlash: a sudden and fierce outcry encompassing everything from phone polls to esteemed journos. Yet is there hope of changing Rudd’s mind?

For now, the possibility seems somewhat bleak, but you can’t blame the media for lack of trying. It appears we’ve now turned to false claims of the filter’s repercussions. Reports released this week suggest that, under the filter, average Internet bandwidth will drop 30 per cent, harmless social networking sites will be banned, online banking details will be exposed, and Kevin Rudd will hurt your puppy. But as much as the Internet filter is an affront to the basic human right of freedom of information, will the filter really have this much of an impact?

While every man and his dog (or maimed puppy) is running around in an uproar, let’s take a real world view of what might occur in Australia’s attempts to reach nanny-state status. The last time the Federal Government offered an Internet filter, it was hacked by a teenager boy with half an hour of spare time. However, at best, the filter will block access to those most extreme of sites, detailing the horrible defiling of goats and Bill Henson’s latest project.

One thing the media has (sort of) gotten right is the level of content that can actually be filtered under the government’s proposal. While our concerned Prime Minister vows to filter all illegal material from Australia’s inter-tubes, the filter currently under proposal won’t even touch the holy grail of illegal Internet use: peer-to-peer. That’s not to say that P2P is invincible — given enough coercion, ISPs have to simply flick the switch to start throttling P2P traffic. For the meantime though, aspiring pornographers on dial-up connections are stuck out in the cold, whereas next-door neighbour John is happily downloading the latest episode of Prison Break on BitTorrent. Surprisingly, the figure given by the media isn’t all that exaggerated; News Limited is suggesting that P2P accounts for 60 per cent of all Internet traffic where the last reliable source of information suggests a figure closer to 57 per cent.

So the media isn’t entirely inaccurate in its crusade against Conroy. The list of the filter’s shortcomings is long and its benefits miniscule. In the end, do we really have the fall for what is essentially a media beat-up? Aren’t we suffering enough under the panic that is Poo-gate? If the filter does indeed jeopardise civil liberties, how long do we realistically have to wait for the next teenage wunderkind to come along and break it? I’m not entirely sure speed will be an issue either — considering the farce that is Australia’s Fibre-to-the-Node scheme, a 30 per cent decrease will be no real surprise to Australians.

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James Hutchinson

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