back to article US prof undermines foundations of Aussie firewall

Just as Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy thought things couldn’t get any worse, his proposal for the great Aussie firewall is under fire again – this time from the lofty heights of US academia. A paper by Derek Bambauer, Harvard graduate and Assistant Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, not only puts the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    election campaign

    As far as I was aware there was no mention of any internet filtering during the election campaign. Thankfully I didn't vote for these dicks.

  2. ben
    Thumb Down


    So if the AZ Gov puts a firewall in place does one assume that any information/website/file that gets through the firewall is automatically checked and therefore legal?

    If not isn’t it an admission that they cant filter the internet sufficiently to make the endeavour worthwhile?

  3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    But why...

    Would the Australian government take any notice of this essay if it has zero intention of listening to it's citizens (apart from the truly scared and those with a vested interest).

    For me, the extract you print of this essay fails in the first three words - "to assess legitimacy".

    Now why would any government ever want to be accused of doing that before spending tax payers dollars.

  4. Julian I-Do-Stuff


    Generally I would agree with the principles as set out, just one problem - with transparency. Is the government merely to provide a list of censored address? Should it describe why they are censored? And biggest and best of all - shouldn't it allow the citizenry some sort of access to those sites so that they can see for themselves whether they agree with the assessment?

    If one cannot question the basis of the censor's decision the process is not truly transparent. Unfortunately granting access in order to form an opinion would seem to undermine the basic idea of censorship.

    One possibility (lots of fun to be had with this idea) would be to provide an anonymised (so no one knows what they might see ahead of time and can't go fishing for anything specific) sample of "questionable" sites/pages and apply some sort of ranking to them based on viewer feedback (which ranking/rating is not to be revealed until after the "vote", lest it bias the viewer). Only those with dedication and strong stomachs need apply...

  5. Ian Rogers

    @election campaign (OT)

    But did you vote for the other side? Abstaining doesn't count (literally).

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  7. Anonymous Coward

    Plausible deniability

    So... by introducing this filter, does that mean that there will be no charges of downloading kiddie stuff in Oz anymore? It sounds to me that you could reasonably assume that what you are now downloading has been "approved" and you've effectively absolved yourself of any responsibility. The defense would be "I assumed it was OK, the filter let me view it" - a reasonable argument you might think.

    But the charge lies somewhere - so does the censor take the blame for anything that slips through the net?

    Interesting times ahead...

  8. J

    Australia, Western?

    Hm, culture trumps geographical location... interesting.

    Although, granted, if you keep going West you will end up there too eventually.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Bloody Stupid

    As an Aussie I find this whole national Firewall malarkey very, very scary.

    I have to say that I found that snippet of the prof's report to strike a cord in me, it certainly lays out all the reasons why a country should never consider this approach. The whole Australian Firewall reeks of another politician wanting to build their monument [read stinking pile of crap] to the human race.

    Bahhh i have never liked politicians.

  10. Hugh_Pym

    @Julian I do stuff

    "shouldn't it allow the citizenry some sort of access to those sites so that they can see for themselves whether they agree with the assessment?"

    Yes the whole thing fails on this. Transparency demands that adults can see what they are not allowed to see.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Democracy and Government Censorship

    Mutually exclusive, Shirley?

    Give us the raw feed and the tools and let us apply our individual democratic rights to filter or not. Oh wait, that's not Nanny State enough, oh well 8-)

  12. Anonymous Coward

    "other unwanted material"

    What debate? We already know what's good for you mate; and if you know what's good for yourself you won't be questioning us!

    @Julian I-Do-Stuff - Only those with dedication and strong stomachs need apply...

    Think of the sheep!

  13. Martin Silver badge

    >Plausible deniability

    Even better - since nobody will see anything naughty on the internet then nobody in Australia will do anything naughty again.

    Remember people only do naughty things after seeing them on the itnernet or in video games.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It Will Block

    South African test match results, nice result Smith and Co

  15. Stephen

    great... more censorship...

    when did censorship become ok?

    if pedophiles can't get their fix in front of a computer, where do you think they will go? playgrounds, neighbors, schools...

    if only i could get high from looking at a picture of pot...

  16. Steinar Haug

    Similar transparency problems in other countries

    There are similar problems of transparency and accountability in other countries also, for instance Norway: Norway has a blocking system similar to the IWF. The fact that a page is blocked is not hidden under the Norwegian system. However, the criteria for maintaining the list of blocked domains are not public, and there is no way to "appeal" if you suspect something is on the list by mistake.

    Using an example from the leaked Danish blocking list (, is still on the Norwegian blocking list today, almost a year afterwards, even though it appears to be perfectly legitimate. It would seem to be a valid question whether it is actually possible to get off the list.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    This is idiology

    We should reconise these academic writings for what they are, an attempt to justify an idiological commitment to near total freedom of expression.

    If we stop and ask ourselves the question, "is there any harm caused by people viewing pornography, particularly child pornography?", we have to consider that it is possible there is.

    If the Australian government have decided that there is potential harm in leaving the Internet uncensored, then they can reasonably take steps to try and minimize that harm.

  18. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. Pierre


    "they are, an attempt to justify an idiological commitment to near total freedom of expression."

    Quite the contrary, you'll find. Saying "it might be acceptable if" is a way to have it accepted. My opinion is that it cannot possibly be acceptable, because it cannot (by design) be monitored by anyone else than the person in charge of the implementation. This very person (or group of persons) have in effect a total and unmonitored control on what the population sees of the Internet (that would be direct brain control on a significant part of the population, I guess). Even if it's sold under the "think of the children" label (to convince cretinous sheeple), we all *know* it will be abused (mind you, "they" are even not that good at lying, proof is the very frightening "and other unwanted content"). That's exactly what China is doing. Not more, not less. Just filtering "unwanted content".

    Also, I find it quite amusing (to say the least) to read a comment about how the freedom of expression is not important... by someone who don't even dare to attach his/her registered *pseudonym* to his/her loonieish rambling.

  20. James

    Lies, all lies...

    Err, re your 1/4 score - the Labor party campaigned on making a filtered web feed available for schools/libraries/homes, but it wasn't mandatory. They only slipped that little proviso in - oh and didn't we mention P2P too, oops, we meant to - once in power.

    And Ian Rogers, voting is compulsory in Oz, if you didn't vote for them them (or a party which supported them through a ridiculously complex support scheme) then you would have voted against them.

    I still fervently hope that one day the pollies involved will realise this will never fly, and quietly shelve the whole thing. Internet access in Oz is already slow and expensive enough as it is, without mangling it further.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I can't decide whether that's a poor attempt at a pun or not.

    The problem here is that steps taken to "minimise harm" are invariably unreasonable due to the impracticality of the whole thing. The sooner this government stops wasting our money the better.

  22. ilago

    This is idiotology

    When was an idealogical commitment to free speech a bad thing? Free speech is the underpinning of western democracies. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Maynmar, North Korea are the only comparable systems of censorship. The system proposed is not trivial and is certainly not suitable for a democracy.

    There is no substantial body of indpendent, peer reviewed academic work to support the proposition that ".. people viewing pornography" suffer harm, let alone long term harm. If any such thing existed, the proponents of these schemes would be trumpeting wouldn't they?

    Child abuse and child pornography is already illegal and is a law enforcement issue. The children harmed in the production and distribution of child pornography are not going to helped at all, ever, by censorship. I have no issue with parents controlling the internet access of their children. That is their decision as responsible parents.

    It is the opinion of a small group of people that find the idea of pornography offensive that all adults should unable to view this material and decide for themselves. If you don't want to view pornography, make an adult decision and stop looking. It's a small step from a narrow view of pornography to political information becoming offensive and not suitable for adults.

  23. Meph

    Re: This is idiology

    "If we stop and ask ourselves the question, "is there any harm caused by people viewing pornography, particularly child pornography?", we have to consider that it is possible there is."

    This may be tongue in cheek, but I'll bite anyway. By your logic, would we then ban motor vehicles because there's a "potential harm" to people?

    As an Australian myself, I've seen the great firewall of Oz discussed before. If it were an opt-in system for people with young children, I'd support it, but arbitrarily blocking pages? No ability to even opt-out of the process??

    Winning a democratic election is not a mandate to bring in all the laws you used as an election platform. Winning a democratic election is an indication that you were the more popular choice from the potential candidates. The sooner politicians learn this fact, the better.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    proxy server

    If the Chinese can use a proxy to get around their firewall, how will the Aussie one be any better?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Isn't transparency fundamentally incomparable with censorship? If we are to believe there exists some information so vile, so intrinsically dangerous that it must be illegal to even possess then the only logical solution is to make sure the fewest people possible can see it. Ideally it would just be one guy in a tower somewhere.

    Doing anything else would be to concede that the information might not be quite so bad as is claimed. And if they do that, they might as well just switch to a voluntary filtering system.

    I have to admit I feel a little more charitable towards IWF after reading how they stack up against the OZ plan. ~1000 sites seems reasonable compared to the 10,000 figure and if they truly remove obsolete blocks regularly that's reassuring as well. Although the recent wiki fiasco highlights flaws in the system, blocking only based on complaints has some merit. There should however be a corresponding method to request an un-block. Meaning that an honest block message is key. If I recall correctly only one UK ISP was set up that way as of the Virgin Killer incident.

    Oddly enough I recently discovered that Saudi Arabia of all places has a system like that.

    Hardly a country to emulate, but at least they're honest about what's going on.

  26. JohnG


    There's no way they can keep up with all the dodgy sites and there are various means to get around the firewall e.g. encrypted traffic to proxies and/or the use of non-standard applications and protocols. It is a compete waste of money.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    It is P2P stupid!

    If you read the comments that come out of Conroy it will be a blocking of Australia from all P2P traffic (selective does not work when the traffic is encrypted so all traffic needs to be blocked) Conroy said the technology to do so is already available for him to get. This is riding on top of the recently changed copyright laws that specifically gave copyrigt holders more rights than the dcma could ever have done. Where were the Australians talking about this? No where even though you could see this coming a mile away. With so much sheep comming out of Oz and every Aussie eating so mug of it thy have become the preverbial "you are what you eat" a placid pack of people ripe to be taken whether it be on the business front the government front and especially on the consumer front. The let companies like Telstra and govvies like Conroy root them where the sun don't shine and they never stand up and band together and gift back. There is no sin thing as a class action against say Telstra or anti trust forced break ups. They just keep taking it, wings almost to the level of Brits about things and just seem to sit on their arses and say "can I have some more please"

    I don't know if he word too innocent or naive would describe them best. But it's more polite to say that from my observation of living amongst them these past years than other things I could say.

  28. James Butler
    Thumb Down

    Do Nothing

    The State should not be involved in filtering Internet content, period.

    If children need to be protected from "offensive" material, then it is their parents' responsibility to do so, not the State's, just as it is in so many other aspects of our lives. If an individual does not wish to view certain types of content then it is their responsibility to apply filters specific to their tastes.

    NO STATE CENSORSHIP OF ANY KIND OF ANY MEDIA. The State is far too concerned with transient political issues to be able to do any kind of long-term, meaningful blocking.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    gets an epic fail on all four points, of course.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    RE: This is Idiology

    I find your spelling error in the title field quite appropriate. This line of reasoning is indeed idiotic. It's not the government's place to protect us from ourselves, as though they possess some sort of higher ideal that is lacking in the common man. You know what I think is harmful? Censorship itself. Surely, warping the perceptions of the collective consciousness of a nation has been shown throughout history to lead to a great deal of grief and suffering. Sure, right now they're talking about blocking "illegal content" but already you're seeing the content in question expand to "inappropriate content" and once the system is in place it *will* be expanded and abused. The ideas Prof. Bambauer discusses here are wishful thinking. Censorship has never been, and never will be, transparent. As someone else pointed out, it doesn't even make sense as selecting democratically what people can or cannot view would mean acknowledging that the people themselves *are* capable of discretion and don't need their enlightened overlords to take them by the hand.

    On the bright side, we're already seeing the fruits of a first-generation filtering: censorship-resistant protocols like TOR. It's kind of like cracking in that it's a nuisance but it forces us to design better code and protocols. Of course, once the premise of systematically limiting free speech is in place, how long will it be until these protocols themselves are deemed illegal?

  31. Akira Doe

    At what cost?

    That's fine if they legitimately want to protect the people. It's been proven that the approach taken by the Labour Government will not work,

    - It will block to many legitimate sites with no accountability or ability for dispute,

    - Will slow down the Internet in Australia (while the Government is willing to spend nearly $5 Billion on a new National Broadband Network which will be crippled by this filter),

    - Will be easy to circumvent (although time will tell),

    - Won't affect P2P traffic OR will speed throttle all of it (still waiting to hear the outcome of comments about this),

    - Push the illegal activities onto more secure like VPNs/Proxies making it harder for authorities to track,

    - As we saw with the recent Wikipedia problems in the UK, a lot of users will appear to come from the same IP (via the filter) again making it harder for authorities to track,

    - And the Millions of dollars being spent on this are going to be a total waste...

    Not to mention anyone who speaks out against censorship of the Internet are likened to Paedophiles who don't want to lose their kiddy porn... There is no open discussion on this and it's bloody scary.

    An example of what could happen, I subscribe to V2Direct, a DVD Rental service where they post Movies to you. You can browse a whole list of DVDs, the same as what you would find at your local Video Rental place. There is a section on this site that has Adult Movies (MA, R+) and even X Rated material (that is sent from their shipping areas in the Northern Territory (where X Rated material is allowed by law).

    Under the filtering scheme, because the site has this material on there it would be blocked at least by the first tier of the filter, the "No Adult Material". This means that anyone who doesn't know they can opt out of the first level of censorship can no longer use the service hurting this business. And what if the X-Rated material on the site (which is only a description of the title and the front cover) puts the site on the second list that can't be Opt-out? There goes V2Direct, a legitimate business unable to do business because they can't object to their website being blocked. If they remove the adult material, from the current information available, it won't matter because they're alreadt blocked and there is no "body" to object to. This is just one of many examples, and that’s not even taking into consideration what effect the slower speeds will have on ecommerce either.

    All this firewall will do is hurt legitimate business and Internet Users while the people doing the wrong thing will always find a way around it and be somewhat more protected from law enforcement with the added anonynimity gained by using a filtering system like this but mainly from the lengths they would have to go to get around the firewall, and all this money would have been wasted.

    I was aware of there being an ISP level firewall during the election process, from my understanding it was always Opt-Out, totally. There was no second level mandatory filter where we’re not told what is blocked, and given no ability to object to incorrectly blocked material.

    Since when did it become the Governments job to raise our children... If anything the poor uptake of the previous Government downloadable filter for home use should be an indication that there’s no need, and now the current Government has pulled the plug on this idea, saying themselves not to worry because (Paraphrasing here) “ISP have adequate filtering options available”.

    So why the need for a new ISP level filter that will cost millions of dollars, won’t stop paedophile scum from doing their thing and could in fact make it harder to police these people, will be easily circumvented most likely by the children the Government are trying to “protect”, give a false sense of security for parents who know nothing about the Internet, slow down the Internet and block legitimate websites that in this day an age could put entire businesses at risk.

    Lets not forget that since we won’t know what is being blocked we have to take the Government at their word that only illegal material will be blocked. I'm not an Anarchist but that's the scariest thought of all...

    We need a Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy who isn’t a total technophobe retard otherwise we’ll only have more idiotic decisions for our technological future like this made.

  32. Robert Brockway

    @Australia, Western?

    Ah yes Australia is a western country. The term doesn't really link to geography very well. I think the best definition is "Western European countries and countries inhabited primarily by the decendents of western europeans".

  33. janimal

    @This is idiology [sic]

    Your post seems to be an exercise in Idiology. Was that deliberate or did you mean 'ideology'?

    Ideology noun (ideologies) - the body of ideas and beliefs which form the basis for a social, economic or political system.

    That's what defines democracy, it is an ideology

    Democracy relies on someone watching the watchers and hopefully someone watching them in turn. Once it becomes opaque it starts to fail the test for a democracy.

    History has fortunately taught (some of us) that an entrenched government sometimes like to defend the citizens from alternative viewpoints, limiting opposition or public scrutiny. Thus with the help of people who ask no further questions than "is there any harm caused by people viewing pornography, particularly child pornography?" a democracy quickly turns into a totalitarian dictatorship.

    No doubt stopping and thinking for a bit is the reason the authors achieved their academic status and have people take note of what they publish.

    Such people are a large part of the reason we are currently (for a short time) only half way towards a totalitarian state despite our current overlords trying so damn hard to get us there.

    Considering the amount of thought you put into your post and your frankly hilarious spelling I have to ask you a personal question?

    Do you work for the Daily Mail?

    ...oh no! I've burnt the toast...tch...tch

  34. Anonymous Coward


    And I thought Britain was trying to win the race to become the biggest disgrace to Western democracy.

    How long before one of these incompetent politicians tries to introduce sedition laws to block criticism?

    People's Republic of Australia?....mmm....

  35. Mike C


    Why is it that Australia cannot get a communcations minister with an ounce of intelligence. Look at the history..

    Richard Alston, famous for his incompitent handling of the adoption of Digital TV.

    Daryl "do nothing" Williams

    Helen Coonan, #1 Telstra fanboy, and all round IT klutz ( no hoper )

    Stephen Conroy, pig headed obstinant idiot who will plough on regardless.

    If Conroy is allowed to ram this BS through, then Australia may as well get out the tin cans & string. No doubt they'd still find a way for bloody telsta to extract a pound of flesh out of that outcome too.

  36. Ian

    The election campaign

    It may have been part of Labor's election campaign, but it wasn't one of the big things they were touting. Another correction as well, Conroy specifically stated that the new filter will be opt-out. Those that were aware of the filter at the time didn't like the idea of it but at least conceded and reasoned that if it's going to be opt-out, it's not all that bad.

    After Labor was elected Conroy changed his mind to make it mandatory (a two tier system where "adult content" is opt-out and "illegal stuff and other things we don't like" is mandatory) and everyone in Australia that gives a damn tripped over and put forth exclamations of WTF MATE? The bastard pulled a swifty on us.

  37. Pierre

    @Robert Brockway about western countries

    «the best definition is "Western European countries and countries inhabited primarily by the decendents of western europeans".»

    I think you mean "mainly", not "primarily".

    That important point made, how do you consider Southern America? The real definition of "Western Country" as used nowadays is more like "Western Europe plus a few former British colonies" -depending on how you consider Canada, you might have to add "current British colonies" ;-).

    Which is roughly equivalent to "Advanced capitalist countries not in eastern Eurasia" -depending on how you consider the US, you might have to add "formerly advanced countries" ;-). But the real signification is: "USA and goons in the UN".

  38. Big Pete
    Thumb Down

    mandatory internet filtering

    "the incoming government did make mandatory internet filtering a plank of its election campaign"

    From what i remember, The filtering policy the incoming government took to the election was optional with an opt out option, it only became mandatory after the election.

  39. Pierre

    Re: China (AC)

    "[China] gets an epic fail on all four points, of course."

    Erm, not at all, in fact China is very open on its Internet censorship. The evil Yellow Peril people even tend to use it as a way to flip the bird at the old, tired USA -and friends. Actually, I can't be bothered to check but I suspect that the Chinese censorship is also quite transparent (in case you don't know, it means saying "sorry mate, we filtered this" when something is filtered out). That would be a 1.5 to 2.0 score on the scale, not a zero.

    And anyway, pray tell how it makes the planned Roo-Land Projekt acceptable? Your personal ideological preferences are not game, we're talking theory here (... if only...).

  40. Paul
    Thumb Down

    Follow the money

    The current Australian government is a joke. It was elected due to a massive scare campaign over workers rights. The previous lot introduced AWAs (Australian Workplace agreements) which gave employers lots more control over job entitlements, being able to sack employees easier, etc. Employers didn't worry so much about hiring people that would play the system, it was a boom time. If you had problems the government recommended you find another employer, unemployment was a all time low.

    Current government gets in renames AWA's to Individual Transitional Employment Agreements (ITEAs),

    much more forgettable, doesn't really change anything much in the details. The current government is heavily controlled by the local unions. People who paid into the campaign funds have access to the pollies. Result. Ideology.

    -They campaigned to support the environment. Result - killed the local solar industry, $3.5 billion to support coal producers as they implement a 5% reduction on CO2 emissions by 2020.

    -Blown the national savings on a few feel good ideas.

    This firewall is just to appear to be doing something, to protect the kids. You'll find what it really does is kills smaller isp's that could possibly make a dent in the current market dominance of Telstra

    Oh yeah :-) the current government is implementing a multi billion dollar program to roll out fibre to the node. ( that does not mean to the house/business) Telstra owns close to 100% of the copper in the ground for the local loop. Result the incumbent telco monopoly, kills its own bid on putting the network, result it gets a free upgrade and can still charge whatever the hell it likes.

    I hope that this government is only incompetent, unfortunately I don't think they are.

  41. Alan Newbury
    IT Angle

    @Election Campaign

    An opt-in only filter was mentioned in about March of 2007 - and then quietly buried until well after the election when it suddenly re-appeared as a two-tier (one mandatory and the other opt-out) system. That's what happens when religious nutters (Family First, I'm looking at you) hold the balance of power in the Senate.

    (IT? icon, since this will kill e-commerce in OZ).

  42. This post has been deleted by its author

  43. Bug

    One man, one vote on this issue

    And the one man is Senator Stephen Fielding of the Christian Nutjobs party. Sorry if you're not the one man, but the AU govt does not care what you think. The kiddy porn line is a way to sell it to the masses, what it is really about is getting the man holding the balance of power in the australian senate on the site of the labor government, and if setting up an expensive firewall of limited effectiveness designed to block all porn legal or otherwise is what it takes then so be it. The p2p blocking issue appears to be an addon, presumably precipitated by the local content industry lobbyist organizations seeing a good opportunity for pushing their particular agenda.

    I've voted labor all my life, but getting this thrown at me after voting out a nominally conservative govt and replacing it with what is meant to be the more liberal (small l) party feels very much like a slap in the face. Just because they messed up on preferences and got themselves saddled with a hardcore conservative overlord in the senate shouldn't mean that we have to put up with his desired policies being implemented by default.

  44. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    @ Australia, Western?

    Yep, sure is!

    I even live in Western Australia!

    It's hot mate!

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