SYDNEY, 24 December 2009: Sydney-based Australian Online Solutions today condemned the government’s plans to introduce draconian Internet censorship laws in Australia.
Senator Stephen Conroy (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) recently announced the introduction of mandatory Internet Service Provider (ISP) level filtering of Refused Classification (RC)-rated content as well as grants to encourage ISPs to filter wider categories of content. This would require the implementation of complicated, expensive and unreliable, yet trivially circumvented filtering technology at the cost of the taxpayer and Internet user, despite a strong message having been sent that this is both unwanted and unwarranted. Reader polls conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspaper showed a staggering 95% of some 25,000 readers reject the federal government’s plans to censor the Internet in Australia, on the basis that it impinges on their freedom. “There are better and safer ways to tackle the problem, such as educating parents, teachers and children, offering customisable filtering as a value-added option and improving law enforcement (including cooperation with other countries)” said Sam Johnston, Australian Online Solutions’ Founder & CTO.
The full frontal assault on civil liberties aside, Australian Online Solutions has also raised some serious technical concerns about the program. “At a time when individuals and businesses are looking to shed expensive legacy systems in favour of cheap, scalable Internet based services, any action which can only impair performance and reliability while threatening to strangle Australia’s connectivity with the outside world calls for extensive justification”, said Johnston. “Cloud computing, which delivers computing services over the Internet on a utility basis – like electricity – gives its’ users a significant advantage over competitors. However web-based applications such as Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail and Twitter are extremely sensitive to bandwidth and latency constraints introduced by censorship technology”, added Johnston. “The proposed law threatens to exclude Australia from this large and growing industry altogether, both as provider and consumer, at a time when it could emerge as a market leader. Would you buy an Internet-based service from China or Iran, or even use one if you were based there?”. Analysts Merrill Lynch and Gartner estimate the cloud computing market to reach $175 billion in the coming years.
Trials commissioned by Senator Conroy and conducted by “highly reputable and independent testing company” Enex Testlab were also called into question, on both technical and conflict of interest bases. Enex Testlab, a supplier of “independent” evaluation, purchasing advice and product review services, boasts a corporate client list with over a dozen vendors of filtering technology including Content Keeper Technologies, Content Watch and Internet Sheriff Technology (accounting for around one quarter of all clients listed) and offers formal certification for content filters. As such it is believed they have strong motivation to avoid releasing a report directly or indirectly critical of their clients’ offerings.
Furthermore, the scope of the testing was artificially constrained, criticial controls (such as connection consistency) were missing and success criteria were poorly defined or non- existent from the outset, in a trial that appears to be a manufactured success. Nonetheless unflattering results which highlighted serious deficiencies in the proposal were disingenuously touted by Senator Conroy as showing “100 percent accuracy” with “negligible impact on internet speed”.
Other problems with the fatally flawed and heavily criticised report include include:
- Proof that “a technically competent user could circumvent the filtering technology” while “circumvention prevention measures can result in greater degradation of internet performance”.
- Admission that all filters were “not effective in the case of non-web based protocols such as instant messaging, peer-to-peer or chat rooms”.
- False positive rates (over-blocking of legitimate/innocuous content) of up to 3.4% (over 5.1 billion pages per Internet Archive estimates) with failure rates as high as 2% (3 billion pages) considered “low”.
- False negative rates (passing of inappropriate content) exceeding 20% (over 30 billion pages) with failure rates as high as 30% considered “reasonable by industry standards” (45 billion pages).
- Admission that 100% accuracy is “unlikely to be achieved” and that the false positive rate increases with sensitivity, with no attempt to scientifically determine acceptable failure rates.
- Faults being perceptible to end users, with some customers reporting “over-blocking and/or under-blocking of content during the pilot” while considering “mechanisms for self-management” and “improved visibility of the filter in action” to be “important”.
- Unjustified assumptions including that “performance impact is minimal if between 10 and 20 percent”, while at least one system “displayed a noticeable performance impact”. Some customers “believe they experienced some speed degradation”.
- Admission of “uncontrollable variables”, including ones that could result in “40 percent performance degradation over theoretical maximum line-rate, or more in some cases”, even at speeds less than 1/12 that of the proposed National Broadband Network (NBN).
- Admission that reliable recognition of IP addresses to be filtered is unreliable (indeed often impossible), particularly for large-scale websites that use load balancing (e.g. most cloud computing solutions).
- Results that were “irregular/incorrect” and “highly anomalous with reasonable expectations” (such as physically impossible improvements in performance when transferring encrypted, random payloads).
- Complete absence of quantitative cost analysis (e.g. what financial load will be borne by both the taxpayer and Internet subscriber, both up front and on an ongoing basis), as well as any secondary costs such as decreased efficiency.
- Overall results indicating that 1 in 5 customers’ needs were not met, with 1 in 3 opting out of continued use of the filtered service.
In addition to contacting local representatives, Australian Online Solutions encourages concerned individuals and businesses to join and support organisations including Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), GetUp and The Pirate Party Australia. The immediate availability of a limited number of sponsorships for founding members of The Pirate Party Australia is also announced for those who want to get involved but, for whatever reason, cannot afford the membership fees in this difficult economic environment. To take advantage of this opportunity please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief explanation of your situation.
“Anyone who cares about their future and that of their children and grandchildren should take action now”, said Johnston, who applied to both The Pirate Party Australia and Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) in response to Senator Conroy’s announcement. “The government’s gift to us this Christmas was draconian censorship, so let’s return the favour in helping The Pirate Party Australia attain official status by acquiring 500 exclusive members”.
About Australian Online Solutions Pty Ltd
Australian Online Solutions is a boutique consultancy that specialises in cloud computing solutions for large enterprise, government and education clients throughout Australia, Europe and the USA. Founded in 1998, Australian Online Solutions has over a decade of experience delivering next generation Internet-based systems and is a pioneer in the cloud computing space, whereby technology previously delivered as hardware and software products are delivered as services over the Internet. Cloud computing is Internet (‘cloud’) based development and use of computer technology (‘computing’). For more information refer to http://www.aos.net.au/
About The Pirate Party Australia
The Pirate Party Australia (http://www.pirateparty.org.au/) is a political party with a serious platform of intellectual property law reform and protection of privacy rights and freedom of speech. The Pirate Party Australia aims to protect civil liberties and promote culture and innovation, primarily through:
- Decriminalisation of non-commercial copyright infringement
- Protection of freedom of speech rights
- Protection of privacy rights
- Opposition to internet censorship
- Support for an R18+ rating for games
- Reforming the life + 70 years copyright length
- Providing parents with the tools to run their own families.
About Electronic Fronteirs Australia (EFA)
Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) is a non-profit national organisation representing Internet users concerned with on-line freedoms and rights. The EFA is the organisation responsible for the “No Clean Feed” (http://nocleanfeed.com/) grassroots movement to stop Internet censorship in Australia. They are also dealing with related issues such as the Anti- Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and censorship of computer games. Individual memberships start at $27.50 and organisational memberships are available. For more information refer to http://www.efa.org.au/
GetUp is an independent, grass-roots community advocacy organisation that is actively tackling this and other pertinent issues including climate change. For more information about how to get involved refer to http://www.getup.org.au
About Sam Johnston
Sam Johnston, Australian Online Solutions’ Founder and CTO, is a prominent blogger on cloud computing, security and open source topics. He maintains a blog at http://samj.net/
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Australian Online Solutions Pty Ltd
For the latest version of this release please refer to http://tinyurl.com/cloudcensor