Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Net censorship tools suit multimedia giants?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-01-03

Who might benefit from Senator Conroy’s plans, and similar plans in other countries?

Apart from the politicians doing the next round of dog-whistling to net know-nothings, and telecommunications companies who will get revenue to cover the "public interest activity", having the tools for content filtering in place will certainly make the multimedia industry giants happy… they’ll be able to piggyback on those tools to track down pirates of all sizes from individuals to organized crime.

Given the chatter about having secret blacklists of sites and content (which means there is no avenue of appeal for a wrongfully blacklisted site as there is no way to see whose blacklist is blocking your work), there is no reason I can see why the multimedia industry couldn’t lobby for inspection of packets to detect possibly unlawful transfers of copyrighted information.

After all, material copyrighted by major corporations is easier to detect across networks because such content is easily placed in a register of file signatures (similar to a register of virus signatures), while hit songs and movies are downloaded by many individuals.

I wonder if any net-ignorant parents who support Conroy’s Censorship push will have second thoughts if they think their ability to download the latest hits with near-impunity will disappear should the "Clean Feed" filtering infrastructure could function (if only after the fact) as a Trojan horse for multimedia corporations?

Unfortunately, the majority of Australians being as they are, more people will probably object to the internet censorship push from worries that their pirating might be prosecuted than they would be that innocent sites will be blocked, like all of wikipedia blocked by the UK, or UK politicians pushing for retrospective censorship of articles in on-line newspaper archives


9 Responses to “Net censorship tools suit multimedia giants?”

  1. Lyn said

    What if, say, a Time Warner product was banned in Australia, but Time Warner wanted to sell it here via the net? There are already problems for game developers unable to get their products into this country.

    Who would win between the Australian gummint and a NAFTA supported Time Warner?

    What if an organisation is developing something with IP potential? Would they be happy for ISPs to have access to their work via P2P filtering?

    What about political communications? Will all political staffers have to forsake email in case someone working at an ISP is a member of the opposition party looking to intercept emails?

  2. Dave Bath said


    Good questions. And I’ll get back on this after pulling together some references.

    There are two streams I see…
    (1) International everyone against everyone else bunfights between WTO and national IP offices. These are already happening. The outcome depends on whether nation states are more powerful than the transnationals in this area, and how much the financial tremors have upset the power of unrestricted trade believers in governments.

    (2) A fight about access to intercepts: The multimedia industry will certainly push governments to enforce laws with all the tools at the disposal of a government. The fact is that everything is ALREADY intercepted – it’s just that the surveillance is not properly recognized by law. For the degree of surveillance, and how the sigint is already misused, I recommend that you bone up on ECHELON, and particularly the European Parliament report on it. When the details of tenders by European consortia were passed on by US SIGINT operators to a US company so they could underbid, this riled the Europeans more than abuses of privacy.

    The struggle for privacy from surveillance has been lost (at least for many decades without introduction of a disruptive technology). Conroy is wanting to go further – blocking content using secret rules that are ready to be twisted.

    The other associated struggle is for access to strong cryptography. Governments will want to prevent the spread to citizens (and other nation states) of strong tools.

  3. Lyn said

    Thanks Dave. Will bone as instructed.

  4. Lyn said

    Boning up completed.

    It seems that high traffic volume is the best protection on offer. I’m reminded of the way large flocks of birds and schools of fish gain advantages over predators through sheer weight of numbers and constant movement. Invariably predators only get to pick off the weak.

    From there, your point 1) becomes gradually redundant as volume increases, yes? There’s not a lot these centralised organisations can do once decentralised exchange reaches a volume that can’t be practically monitored. True?

    On point 2) again the best solution appears to be volume. For arguments sake, if you’re developing a new pimple treatment the simplest and maybe cheapest solution to industrial espionage problems would be to release a school of herring, most of them red. Especially if governments won’t let anyone have strong cryptography.

    It would be difficult enough if every pimple cream developer was using communications tech to discuss secret recipes, worse if every one of them was doing so in the middle of a cloud of misleading recipes. Your time and effort would be better spent developing your own than trying to steal Elizabeth Arden’s.

    Given that governments are generally behind everyone else, and that a 9 year old MCP is pretty much a sign of the times, I can’t see centralised control mechanisms working out. Rather, contrary to the logic of centralisation, humans have a tendency to self regulate.

    A friend from Zimbabwe tells how, as the country slid into lawlessness, people were too afraid of carjacking to stop at red lights. More and more people drove straight through red lights, and more and more people stopped at green lights anticipating hordes of red light runners. When the whole population runs red lights, what can authorities do? Imprison everyone? Eventually traffic self regulated to treat all coloured lights as amber and order was restored.

    The problem for governments and commercial interests, in this as in solutions to pollution control, is that they can’t get their heads around decentralisation and they don’t actually trust anyone.

  5. Dave Bath said

    Very interesting, and good analysis angle on volume. I’ll need to think on what you’ve said, but I am less optimistic about things than you, at least in the medium term of a decade or two.

    You said: “When the whole population runs red lights, what can authorities do? Imprison everyone?”
    Worked well enough for Stalin.

    You said: “The problem for governments and commercial interests, in this as in solutions to pollution control, is that they can’t get their heads around decentralisation and they don’t actually trust anyone.”

    Hmmmm. Isn’t Adam Smith’s invisible hand decentralized? If so, the commercial interests SHOULD understand decentralization.

    You said: “…and they don’t actually trust anyone.”
    Maybe because, upon introspection, they find little reason why they themselves should be trusted, and by extension, project that hollowness onto the internal workings of everyone else. Come to think of it, few they would deal with in their workday lives would lead them to challenge such a low opinion.

    And where in this world of consumerist messages and schools without the seven liberal arts, kids entering (and leaving) university without a sound grasp of even the Trivium, and I wonder how the young will get the tools needed to see avarice and profligacy as anything else but admirable, or yet (given Rudd/Swan exhortations about Xmas spending), even a civic duty.

  6. Dave Bath said

    It’s also worth skimming through a couple of the things I mentioned in Anti-net-censorship tools, particularly Circumvention Tools.

  7. Lyn said

    Skimming done. I’m surprised at how much I already knew.

    I’m not really either optimistic or pessimistic, more sceptical of both positions.

    Yes, the invisible hand thing crossed my mind too. But then, the free market never actually existed, did it? It’s always been propped up by either government handouts, or favourable legislation, or both. The same could be said of the section of the citizenry known as swinging voters, or working families, depending on the context.

    The young are not a homogenous group. Some watch birds with their grandparents, some get an MCP at 9, some develop a decent set of personal ethics without the canon. Others will breed to get the Harvey Norman baby bonus and require assistance spelling their own names.

  8. Dave Bath said

    Lyn said: “Skimming done. I’m surprised at how much I already knew”

    Doesn’t surprise me from the thoughtfulness of your posts elsewhere and comments here.

    Lyn said: “The young are not a homogenous group”
    Agreed. But I still argue that it is becoming harder and harder for them to get the tools they should have, and this situation doubtless serves interests that WANT an easily swayed population on which to predate. (I’d imagine that most kids of this blog’s readers are well versed in ethics and civics, but by parents and friends rather than the certificate factories).

  9. […] (2009-01-08) in The Age has an article (not available online) that goes further than my "Net censorship tools suit multimedia giants" (2009-01-03), taking my warnings the next step and suggesting links between Conroy’s […]

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