TechWorld

Gen-Yers will use social networks to bypass Internet filter, critic says

Once a workaround is found to bypass the government’s Internet filter, it will spread like wildfire on social networking sites says Internode engineer Mark Newton

The federal government’s proposed Clean Feed Internet censorship scheme does not account for trends in social networking communities and will easily be circumvented by savvy Gen-Yers, according to a prominent network engineer.

Mark Newton, a network engineer with Internode and vocal critic of the trial, said that users won’t need a high level of technical skill to access banned or incorrectly blocked content. “The technologies to get around these things are straightforward and completely bullet proof,” he said.

“There are so few obstacles in the way of having one hundred percent, guaranteed effective censorship bypass that people would be mad not to do it.”

The Australian Communication and Media Authority’s July report into the latest testing of ISP filters shows the percentage of incorrectly blocked content between one and eight per cent. Newton said that many Internet users will not tolerate the compromised access and workarounds will spread virally throughout online communities.

“I think a Generation Y user will only put up with being blocked by the censorship system once. It’s not just Generation Y either - it’s your average 12-year-old,” he said.

“It’ll be about as quick as a viral YouTube video. Somebody finds something interesting and plonks it up on their Facebook page, everyone else thinks it’s interesting too and they forward it on.”

The rise of social networking tools such as Facebook among otherwise non-technical users means that ways to bypass the filtering will rapidly disseminate among the greater population.

John Lenarcic lectures on social and ethical aspects of information technology at Melbourne’s RMIT, focusing on social responses to internet pornography and trends in online communities.

Lenarcic believes the government’s proposed scheme will also see a cultural backlash among social networking and blogging communities as soon as interference is felt.

“People usually recoil if something changes in their lifestyle when they’re used to it. It’s a natural effect and this change is a big one to some people, so naturally you’re going to have resistance to it,” he said.

“It’s a power issue. The Internet’s empowered them, and now they’re feeling that their power is being threatened by this filter.”

Lenarcic sees the proposition as a moral panic in response to an inadequate level of awareness of online media. Problems such as the growing incidence of sexual predation and ‘grooming’ of children on social networking utilities cannot be addressed by a content censorship system and are difficult to detect due to the level of anonymity.

“There has to be an education program in new media. As soon as people start using computers they should be taught about the ethical connotations. It’s like learning how to drive; you learn what to do and what not to do, shortcuts to get to the right destination, the road regulations and so on. We don’t have that for computer users,” he said.

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The Federal online content advisory body Net Alert was introduced in 1999 to provide free in-home content filters for ACMA’s list of banned content.

Senator Nick Minchin, shadow communications minister, says the existing system is adequate and responsibility for legal activity should remain with users and content hosts.

“The case has not been made that we need to go further than the current legal arrangements or that going further is likely to be effective, or will not have quite serious side effects,” he said.

“Parents have a responsibility to be monitoring the sorts of sites their children are accessing and the traffic that is on those sites. In a free society you accept, regrettably, that there are going to be some elements you simply cannot control,” he said.

Minchin said that the government monitoring could never keep pace with technology and online social trends.

“It’s such a fast moving field that you take six months to bring in a law, and then of course the goal posts have moved. I think it is incumbent on the industry and in its own interests to ensure that its codes of practice keep up with the moving of the goal posts,” he said.

Senator Minchin also said he was concerned by the possibility for abuse in a state-imposed censorship scheme, and its impact on civil liberties.

“I think it has serious implications for the prima facie right of all citizens. Within the law, people should be able to view sites they want to see,” he said.

Senator Conroy’s office was not available for comment.