Australian Internet Censorship and Data Retention

Just going on how they treat matters regarding the internet, it seems that the current Australian government is trying to beat the previous government’s poor record.  Where the previous government seemed to think the internet a scary and unimportant thing that they didn’t really understand and therefore ignored it, the current government seems to be trying to do something, but like a lot of other things they do, do something badly.

Internet Filtering
One of their bright ideas is to censor the internet, by putting some rather large filters right in the middle of all the ISPs.  Supposedly this is going to protect the children, though other than some mad ranting by Senator Conroy he hasn’t said which children or how.

The clearest information is that it will block Refused Content or RC rated information.  The problem with this is there is no clear definition what this is.  With no clear boundary you can get what is “scope creep”.  Bit by bit, each group with their own agenda will try to get whatever they don’t like banned.  Some will fail, but others will get their little set of demons onto the list.

From “children overboard” to the strange siezure of the wikileaks founder’s passport when he returned to Australia, you can never trust the government fully. As the filter list will be a closed list, who is to say if it is right a particular webpage or website should be banned?  Books or films that are banned are known, you can find out what they are and why.  A proper discussion and review can then be undertaken.  By contrast, you won’t even know something is banned unless you try to visit it.

I’ve personally seen the “great firewall of china“.  What is filtered is often arbitary, though anything that is embarassing to the government is filtered.  It slows a lot of sites down and makes others look strange.  Do you really what to live in a country where the government decides what ideas should be seen?  Or even a country that places like China can point to and say they are doing the same thing, so its all ok?

Data Retention
The next bright idea by the government is to make ISPs keep 10 years of internet browsing history of all their users.  This would be like tapping everyone’s phone, just in case you did something wrong in the next 10 years.

There hasn’t been much detail about this proposal but let’s assume for a moment that it keeps URLs.  Now of course most people’s internet addresses move around, so you will also need to keep some sort of log of which account used what address for the same time.

The URLs will tell the government which websites you have visited, but URLs also tell them which pages you visited.  You can also often assume which pages you read and which you didn’t because of the time between this viewed page and the next.

Search engine queries are also encoded into a url. Google searches usually have something at the end of the url which is what you were searching for.  There is also a chain of visited pages, so someone looking at a log could see your search, you go to a site, perhaps you then visit a banking or paypal site (have you bought something now?)

Even if you think you have nothing to worry about what the government might do with this information, including future governments, this information has to sit somewhere.  Data sitting around for 10 years has 10 years time of being stolen or copied.  Perhaps some activists obtain this log and publish a list of names of people who visited a particular website.

There is current laws for lawful interception.  This is where the police or another security agency goes to the court and says a particular person has done certain bad things and asks if they can intercept their internet traffic.  It’s the same rules if they want to tap your phone.  Except for “fishing trips” where police just randomly look at information from anyone hoping to trip up on something, what is this system going to be used for?

What can you do?
If you’re not happy about either, or both, of these new proposals, it is time to do something about it. Visit the website Open Internet Website for what you can do.  One of the things is to

tell you mum about internet censorship which has a funny message from comedian Akmahl Saleh that also has an important side.

Most of important of all, don’t let these proposals become law because of apathy!

5 thoughts on “Australian Internet Censorship and Data Retention

  1. What a great blog you all got going. I love the mixture of good and accurate info along with some intellectual ideas. It is wonderful to be able to at last find excellent content where I really feel like I can believe in the text as well as respect the people who post it. Considering the online nonsense nowadays I continually enjoy uncovering some genuine voices on the internet. Thank you blogging and keep it up, please!!

  2. Wow, I’ve never heard of the Children Overboard Affair before. That is patently ridiculous. How can anyone who participated in telling such a lie still retain a modicum of respectability?
    The Internet censorship business reminds me of how Ray Bradbury describes the society in Fahrenheit 451 as having come about. It is almost exactly the same.
    Good luck, Australians.

  3. I’m afraid that the Internet won’t be free from government intervention and regulation for much longer…well, at least to the extent it is today. Thanks for this article.

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