King Conroy-Canute and Aussie web censorship

by Lee Hopkins on January 16, 2008 · 1 comment

in Uncategorized

Net censorship is laugable

My colleague-in-arms Laurel Papworth points to a fabulous article from the stables of the ABC about the whole Labor net censorship laughable debacle bill.

Says the ABC’s Mark Pesce on ‘Unleashed’ (where my mate Trevor Cook also writes):

No child pornographer has been detected or caught through filtered network traffic. These rings are cracked because some law enforcement agency has broken into the human network of individuals who trade in these images. Filtering has not, nor will ever stop the distribution of any child pornography. Hence, Australia’s net filter will not do anything to stop or even slow down child pornography. It’s an emotional argument that has zero practical value.

Furthermore, there’s no net filtering that will keep horny teenagers from searching for, finding and downloading pornography. This lesson was already driven home in August last year when 16 year-old Tom Wood cracked the government’s NetAlert filter in 30 minutes. (Wood is now consulting with Conroy’s office, but it doesn’t seem to have helped.)

Here’s what will happen: teenagers will begin to probe the ISP-level filter as soon as it’s installed, and as they find the holes, they’ll share this information with their friends – using the Internet. Props and social standing will go to the kids who can find and exploit these holes most effectively – the 21st-century version of gearhead culture. Within a year’s time that filter will have more holes in it than a Swiss cheese, and every teenager worth his or her salt will know how to exploit them.

I quickly located The Onion Router, or TOR, as it’s more familiarly known, a tool developed by computer science researchers to provide a safe web browsing tool for people who live in places (like China, Saudi Arabia or Iran) where their browsing is tightly filtered and carefully monitored. TOR allows you to browse the web anonymously: no one can see what sites you’re browsing, where you’re going, and what you’re doing. You just send your web traffic to one of the TOR machines, and it disappears in a haze of network traffic that makes it completely impossible to trace.

I installed TOR on my computers in about 5 minutes. (Go to for all the details and software.) Now it won’t matter whether or not my ISP is forced to filter my web browsing – because they’ll never know what sites I visit!

Nearly 20 years ago, John Gilmore, one of the founders of SUN Microsystems, and a passionate believer in free speech, coined what I’ve since framed as Gilmore’s Law: “The net regards censorship as a failure, and routes around it.” The whole structure of the Internet is geared toward the sharing of information. Any attempt to block that sharing of information isn’t just bad policy – it’s actually, provably impossible.

Conroy’s proposal is laughable, impractical, and doomed to failure. But politics trumps reason, so I reckon we should just install TOR on every computer we can, then sit back and watch another King Canute try to command the tides.

He says it so much more politely than I would. Now I’m off to install the TOR software…


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