I'm sure I'm not the first to email about your promise to block Internet pornography and violent content at the ISP level. News of this announcement was posted on a technical-community website today named Slashdot.org, read by tens of thousands of IT workers a day. I've provided a link to the Slashdot discussion at the end of this email.
A few common themes emerged from the comments posted. The first is the technical impossibility of blocking Internet traffic that is practically unrecognisable from other net traffic; the content you're trying to block cannot be "sniffed" by either word filtering or image detection, and blocking specific URLs is a short-term solution that will take content providers ten minutes to work around. These problems have plagued every filtering system introduced, even the harshest, the Chinese firewall that blocks such words as "democracy" and "free speech" from its citizens.
The second (and much worse) issue is that this system will involve creating a list of names and details about people who want access to pornographic and violent content. Can you imagine the immediate response to the Government having a list like that? Even worse, a reactionary group such as the current Liberal Party having access to those names? With home Internet usage (particularly broadband) soaring, you're not just making a list of people who access this content though the net, you're making a list of people who access it altogether. With details of names, addresses, phone numbers and requested sites, you're on the path to providing the Ruling Party with a highly-detailed demographic study that could be used for profiling. Would it really shock you if the current Liberal Party were to use these results about violent content, cross-referenced with a racial demographic map, to justify a pre-emptive curfew or lockdown on particular suburbs?
The third and most chilling effect is on free speech. While the virtues of pornography and violent content are hard to expound upon, you're introducing the first real step towards media censorship with a tagline of 'saving the children', which is demagoguery of the purest form. The children need saving from a lot more than pornography and violence -- you'd be best off saving them first from the kind of parents who are too apathetic or distracted to monitor their children's activities. Parental responsibility and an educational campaign about the Internet is what you should be advocating, not a band-aid solution that will be worked around and that infringes on our privacy.
Political activists will ask, "Who decides what is censored?", and "How does artistic or political taste factor into that decision?" Should war footage be censored if considered violent? So begins the leap into incidental political censorship. How long before it's more than incidental? And now you've got a Government with a list of people who attentively watch censored war footage.
Mr Beazley, this is one of the most confounding and technically illiterate election promises I have ever seen. The feasibility of this proposal is utterly zero, first on technical constraints, then on privacy and free-speech implications. You've been in politics for over 26 years now and I don't doubt your ability to see the implications of such a proposal, so I can only conclude that this is total, utter demagoguery aimed at technically impaired and apathetic parents. Please be aware that anyone with even slight technical or political foresight will be alienated immediately.
Thanks for your time.
Slashdot commentary on the proposal: