back to article Oz admits $85m p0rn filtering FAIL

The Australian government has admitted that the AUS$85m it spent trying to protect kiddies from internet porn was AUS$85m too many. Little more than six months after Oz rolled out a free internet filter for concerned parents across the country, Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has dubbed the $85m scheme a " …

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  1. Adam Williamson
    Thumb Down

    Erm...

    You appear to have missed a rather important point, which is that the government in Australia has changed in the last six months. The government that implemented the filter was the previous 'Liberal' (i.e. conservative) administration. The one that's killing it is the new Labour administration.

    A newly elected government reversing some of the policies of its predecessor - not so much of a news story, really.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I make that..

    AUD$2931.00 for every PC using it.

    Nice. A half decent PC costs what? AUD$1200.00

  3. Brian Miller

    Just lock the box down with a key

    Want the kiddies to not view pr0n? Lock down the computer with a physical key. The kid can only use the computer with the adult watching, and that's the way it'll be.

    Otherwise, stop whining that someone else needs to be a parent to your own offspring and let them fill their minds with filth and garbage and hope they'll get a much-deserved Darwin award.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Ahh, Australia...

    ...the only western (?) country more terrified of sex than the USA.

    Seriously, mandatory filtering at the ISP level, for everyone? How absolutely batshit crazy do you have to be to support that? Even the most extreme anti-porn people in the US aren't advocating anything close to that, let alone planning it for real!

  5. Damian Wheeler

    There is no simple answer. A promise no government can keep

    Brian, do you have kids? Doubt it.

    We aren't talking about 5 year olds here, its pre-teen to teen kids. You can't sit and watch the kid all the time. Physical keys haven't been on PC cases for years (unless you have a server case). But you can do other things like remove the keyboard and power cord. But here's some reality checks for you:

    1) I don't like people looking over my shoulder when I'm trying to work why would a kid.

    2) Kids need some privacy to chat with their mate about that hot chick/stud at school. Can't do that with parents watching

    3) More than one kid of that age in the house? more than one computer? can't watch them all.

    4) I want my evening time to myself, or to continue my work, or to also be on a computer, not supervising net usage. My wife has a life too.

    5) Maybe I don't want my internet line filtered at the ISP because I don't want my speed hampered or I don't care if I see the odd bit of filth on my own PC?

    Install password protected commercial filtering on the Kids PC(s) and use a strong password on my own, and randomly check what they are doing online. The main problem is the parents who aren't tech-savvy. They just have to be strict with the kids time on the net and be clear with them that there will be lots of trouble if they are caught looking at things they know they shouldn't be. Other than that if you can't trust your kids to do the right thing, then they can't use the computer.

  6. Scott Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    David Wiernicki

    You may think that nutcases in the USA are not advocating or planning this sort of thing but I am not so sure.

    I believe that there are no depths of stupidity or alarmism that some of those idiots are not capable of plumbing. I also think that where the US leads, others are in danger of being pulled along.

  7. Seán

    It could work

    Look at the way there's no graffiti any more, or smoking, or drinking and everyone smiles and says please and thank you and you can whistle along to the tunes. I hear the cup and ball on a string sales are rocketing up and all the bookies are closing down along with the pubs.

    Mind you the enormous riots do seem to be on the increase.

  8. Patrick Ernst
    Paris Hilton

    @David Wiernicki

    /quote ...the only western (?) country more terrified of sex than the USA.

    I take it this was tongue-in-cheek? 29,000 units in use - somehow I don't think we're too afraid of sex. :)

    It was a(nother) Howard govt disaster. Thankfully they're gone. We've moved on, said "Sorry" to our indigenous fellow citizens and hopefully grown up a bit now the nannies have moved into the retirement village.

    For myself, at $0 cost, I set my home DNS to use OpenDNS.org with adult filtering. If I need a dose of porn there's always a torrent somewhere and my kids are way less likely to browse onto some site which is outside their emotional & cognitive development level.

    Paris - cos we've talked and agreed she's just not a good role model for the kids. :-)

  9. Adam White

    Education pogrom

    "I take it this was tongue-in-cheek? 29,000 units in use - somehow I don't think we're too afraid of sex. :)"

    Depends if by "we" you mean "me and my mates" or "the government".

    This line is my favourite:

    "Education for parents and teachers as well as children is a priority."

    The Government now needs to spend money educating adults as to why ISP-level censorship is good for them.

  10. Scott
    Pirate

    Buying votes

    This always was and always will be about buy votes to get re-elected.

    Based on their "not overly optimistic" figures then 2.5 mil votes for a cost of $85m equals around $34 a vote.

    As a once off that is a much better outcome for them than offering tax cuts that are then ongoing.

    "Other than that if you can't trust your kids to do the right thing, then they can't use the computer"

    If you can't trust your kids to do the right thing, then having them use a computer would be the least of your worries

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    'Online Safety' and Censorship

    A few thoughts and suggestions .....

    Firstly, I begrudgingly use the term "online safety", since the computer isn't going to explode and kill your child (Die Hard 4.0 not withstanding ....). If parents taught their kids a few things, such as never meeting people from 'online', never sending pictures without checking with parents first, and so on, the world would be a much safer place. An example: even on a 'play date' where the kids met via traditional means, the parent should visit the other child's home the first, or first few, time(s) to assess risks. Most risks to children have been around since long before the internet, in one form or another.

    I agree with Damian, that it's not practical to supervise kids all the time, but some education and specific 'preparation' prior to unsupervised surfing would be a good thing. And the standard rule applies - if your kid's doing it, you as parent need to understand what 'it' is.

    I have a distinct aversion to censorship. I believe in shielding children from porn and so on, but respect the right of adults to choose (and frankly, wouldn't want to live in a country where such choices were made for me by government or its agencies). But ratings are a good thing, and ratings for content should be pervasive, IMHO, though I admit this does not completely eliminate the porn problem.

    I adopted a 'filtering' solution (completely within my control) that no kid can circumvent inside the home. I got some old hardware (in this case a cheap Compaq desktop off eBay) and installed Untangle (a free - as in beer - gateway/firewall and content filter) that can operate in a transparent mode. Even the updates are free. In my installation, it sits behind a typical domestic router/modem, both in a locked cabinet. No-one can tamper with it and I don't notice any slow-down. It's set to filter porn, violence and so on, remove spam, phish, malware and prevent intrusions. It can stop IM/IRC and other specific protocols both ways and a lot more. It works very well, though I can't claim it's perfect. Keep in mind that filtering is within the parents' control and it can be configured to say, filter the kid's computer fully and log ALL their traffic, but provide the parents' computer unfiltered access. Since the only cost was hardware at about $100, I'd recommend this to anyone who can do the (fairly simple) installation. In a SOHO configuration it's pretty much 'set and forget', so a computer-savvy friend can do it for you. There are other gateway solutions beyond Untangle, though I found Untangle best for my needs.

    Unlike home filtering, ISP-based filtering, as proposed by Australia's new Labor Govt, is mandatory, though they say there'll be an opt-out mechanism - I'll wait to see if that's true. The previous PC software filter was always doomed to fail (some say it was just a publicity stunt, anyway). IMHO, the proposed ISP-based filter will err on the side of censorship of legitimate material and as such will also fail (in the task of protecting only children from objectionable material). The problem is you don't know what you're missing if it's censored, so proving there are errors becomes quite problematic. The most disturbing aspect of the ISP-filter is that the Feds will have a say in what's filtered AND there will be no public access to lists or descriptions of what has been filtered out - not even an IP address. This sounds to me like a system that will quickly be abused. Once we start down that slippery slope ........

    So where's the balance? I suggest we focus on three efforts: (1) Educate the parents - it follows that educating the children, which remains a parental responsibility, will then be more effective; (2) Provide ratings advice, including a self-rating system (but spot-checked) for most sites, that dovetails into browsers and simple software-filters - I acknowledge that this really only speeds up the performance of filters and doesn't remove the need for other filtering mechanisms such as those employed in robust gateway solutions; (3) If the parent/user so chooses (and I firmly believe that this *absolutely must* be an opt-in system to avoid the insidious creep of censorship), provide ISP-based filtering.

    Afterthought: If ICANN had introduced the .xxx domain, and governments worldwide legislated to force objectionable material into that domain, wouldn't that make this situation much easier to deal with? 'Free speech' wouldn't be an issue since anyone could freely elect to see the .xxx domain and then apply their own tailored filtering. Countries where religious laws forbid such material could block that domain outright, and likewise, domestic filters (opt-in, of course) could operate without speed penalty.

    And one more thing. Most Australians are not afraid of sex - far from it. Unfortunately, though, a small minority are, and they seem to have the ear of both sides of politics in this country.

  12. mezla
    Happy

    @David Wiernicki

    Dave... mate... as Patrick Ernst intelligently pointed out, if Aussies were afraid of sex, we'd have adopted the filter. It's huge failure can only sensibly be interpreted as an invitation to the rest of the world to get over here and get freaky.

    I wonder how many more times the fabulous Mr Rudd will be made to look bad by the backwards policies and projects implemented by the previous government. Who was that guy anyway? John something or other...

    - Matt

  13. John Griffiths

    Not quite as it seems

    El Reg needs an Australia consultant it seems, I'm quite happy to provide this service for a reasonable fee but lets move on.

    The previous Government understood the danger of effective filtering and the uselessness of everything else. But they were under a lot of pressure from nutjobs who would like to live in a world where their shrillest demand can govern the lives of the rest of the citizenry.

    So the fig leaf program providing filtering programs was created and had to be well budgeted so as to look like a sizable fig leaf.

    Did it achieve it's publicly stated objective? No, of course not.

    Did it calm down the nutjobs without shutting down the internet in Australia? Yes, it did.

    Not courageous politics but as lesser of two evils go it wasn't so bad.

    Labor also are being disingenuous in their proposal for the sake of the kids.

    Their plan is to create a whitelist of approved websites (referred to as a "clean feed") and then force ISPs to only serve pages from sites on the whitelist UNLESS the customer specifically requests the perverts and terrorists feed, a choice which would no doubt be used against them in all manner of future situations.

    It's got much more to do with taming the 'net than protecting children.

    But as Pratchett observed "We did it for the children" is prominently carved out on many a cobblestone on the road to hell.

  14. Big Pete
    Black Helicopters

    Buying votes

    This has very little to do with protecting children, and everything to do with locking in the vote of the family first party in the upper house, so the new Labor Govt can get their legislation passed.

    On the low uptake of the previous govt's filter, most of us are just not interested, or have made other arrangements.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    The wrong numpties

    As already stated, it was the previous Liberal Government that wheeled in this pig-with-lipstick idea as a desperate attempt to secure the far-right christian god-botherers.

    These numpties are now gone, praise be the lord.

    The new numpties, however, want to try ISP filtering, another pig-with-lipstick solution.

  16. Dan Reeder

    opt-in

    There's been some discussion / thought on this issue on the AusNOG mailing lists (where industry admin / CEOs / network boffins regularly duke it out) and I'd say the most feasible scenario that they've come up with would be to have a "clean feed" based on the whitelisting idea mentioned above, which the user can opt-in to.... so that if people wish to protect their kids, they can request the ISP to modify their access account appropriately... and if a user doesn't wish to have blocks, then they need not identify themselves as being perverts/terrorists (as John Griffiths above posits). Business as usually for the masses, extra feature set to opt into for the mums + dads.

    The methodology for providing such clean feeds has resulted in the usual discussion around things like transparent proxies, bgp, radius profile attributes, government-mandated whitelist / ACLs, etc.

    The ISP's main point is that everything - from the consulting / ideas phase to implementation phase to ongoing support / production phase - needs to be funded by the government. ISPs shouldn't be footing any portion of the bill.

  17. John Carney

    Turnabout ...

    I seem to remember that many years ago, it was the Coalition touting filtering at the ISP and Labour trying to shoot it down. At the time, the Coalition was cosying up to a nutjob independent who held the balance of power in the senate. Surprisingly, sanity prevailed then and the plan evolved into NetAlert, which had the advantage that it wouldn't break the internet for everybody.

  18. simon

    so what rich mate of howard mate another 85 million

    how did this program cost 85 million?

    who got payed 85 million?

    and why if the filter is useless, and the money was paid to a private firm for the software, is the government not getting a refund for a product that obviously did not fulfil its purpose.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SCUM are in control

    Opt out? The "Senator for Control of Unauthorised Media" (henceforth to be known as SCUM) has publicly stated that Opt-Out will be a partial opt-out. Yes you can opt-out of the filter on adult sex and violence sites, be we sill still filter child porn and other detestable media for everyone, no exceptions. And of course they won't add stuff to the permanantly filtered list, oh no, that would be just un-australian!

    Steve

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    How do they know?

    How do they know that only 29,000 are being used? Does it log in with a government server every time it blocks a "nasty" bit? Or every 24 hours just in case?

    Stop? Well, as others have said, there is another hidden agenda here, again!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Server side

    It needs to be server side, client side they'll always break. Just make it so they can order an internet connection with filtering and then leave it at that.

    "mandatory ISP-based filtering to deliver a filtered feed to all homes"

    Yep, that's the right approach.

    As for the opt out business mentioned above (forced filtering of kiddie sites regardless of opt out settings), look at that Finland filtering.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/18/finnish_policy_censor_activist/

    The guys blog points out that they're filtering LEGAL SITES located in the USA and Europe featuring young *looking* (often just photoshopped) *legal* age girls, or non nudes. When he pointed this out, they promptly added his site to the list of filtered sites, his site just containing text.

    There's the problem right there, you have to let people *request* their filtering, because the person doing the filtering become little filter-nazis that filter stuff they have no business filtering. They revel in their arbitrary unchallenged power over others.

    It's the nature of power hungry people to gravitate to positions where they can exercise uncontrolled power over others, so a job that can be abused by a nazi is always eventually filled by a nazi.

  22. Matt

    @Damian

    Sounds like you haven't got time for your kids. Either don't let them have internet access when you're not around, or actually take time to look after them.

    If you've brought up your kids well you don't need to look over their shoulders every second, you just need to be around.

    I'm sorry if it comes as a shock but being a parent takes time!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    What's the problem?

    Just let the kids surf a little porn if they want and at the same time educate them about real sex and why porn is generally not representative of it. At the same time as educating them in the realities of our primary biological imperative you will be giving them a good grounding in how and why most media is fantasy at best and outright bullshit at worst - which is probably about the best lesson you could teach them these days to keep them sane and mentally healthy.

    Of course that would require you to be willing to spend time engaging with your children and being open an honest with them, a duty far too many people are not fulfilling these days.

    We used to come across.. sorry.. "find" porno mags all over the place when I was a kid and it didn't do us any harm whatsoever simply because even back then we knew it was all make-believe.

  24. Cyberwlf

    John Coward...

    As others have said here, it was the previous CONSERVATIVE administration which implemented this and many other right wing agendas. The party was the closest thing Australia has had to a facist party in its history. ISP level filtering that is opt-in is a good idea, as long as its opt in, that way businesses, governments and parents can chose to limit what is accessible, and those chosing not to have it, don't have to. Having working for a software filtering company I know many ways one can get around them, and the product is one of the market leaders, so i wont name names, but ISP-based filtering wont stop people bypassing it, but certainly limit the probability.And anyone who thinks Aussies are afraid of sex have obviously never been to Oz, you must be mistaking us for the brits :P

  25. Simon Painter
    Paris Hilton

    @ Damian Wheeler

    You can absolve yourself of responsibility as much as you like... I am guardian of my brother and he is 12 years old. I want him to have access to the internet and learn to use it responsibly so we frequently talk about 'net risks as well as real life risk (without making him scared that there is a pedo around every corner). He knows that I can monitor his internet usage (logged at the network level and I can also monitor his screen live from anywhere) and so although he may in the future do the typical teenage thing and fire up the smut (a new euphamism?) he knows that I know and the pure embarassment factor is a pretty good deterrent.

  26. andy
    Boffin

    @Simon Painter

    @Simon Painter -- Sounds like a regular 'Big brother' scenario -- Orwell would be pleased...

    no seriously Simon, it sounds like you're doing a good job but I dont think its a good idea to make your brother think that you can see EVERYTHING he does on the net. I mean give the poor kid a little bit of space to make his own mistakes.

  27. bob_blah
    Thumb Up

    I'm so proud

    Being a long-term expat from Oz, I always enjoy catching up on the news from home. Particularly when it confirms that we (they) are a bunhc of technophoic dimwits.

    I recall with great amusement a sign the EFA (Oz version of EFF) put on the side of a bus back in 2000 when the Federal and State governments agreed a regulatory scheme for criminalising the publication of 'less than wholesome' material on the Internet. The sign read 'Australia - The Global Village Idiot'.

    Maybe I'm getting old, but I always feel more comfortable when things don't change.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Why not just get the ...

    ...The parents to do the job that they are supposed to - i.e. take some f***ing responsibility for the sprogs that they have spawned!

    Why the Hell should the government (any government for that matter) be legislating in this area?

    Parents (and perhaps schools) should be responsible for THEIR children.

    The idea of Tax-payers money being wasted in this manner in too damned painful.

  29. analyzer
    Black Helicopters

    @Damian @ andy

    Andy, it's a good thing to let under 16's know that you know, it encourages them to approach things with caution.

    Simon, I hope you let him approach you regarding the 'distasteful' stuff as opposed to you going to him, and on his 16 birthday you do plan to kill the monitoring don't you?

    Sometimes you need a helicopter :)

  30. andy

    @analyzer

    Sure, why not go the whole hog and inject the kids with RFID chips and monitor the childs every move via satellite...

    It sounded like Simon was saying, in one breath, that he's educating his brother and giving him responsibilities/priveleges but in the next breath was saying 'I will know exactly what you have been doing & when you have been doing it'.

    It's great to talk the kid through the risks of the net etc as well as in everyday life but there has to be times when you let them off the leash a little to make their own mistakes as long as they have proved themselves trustworthy enough to do so...

  31. Andy Bright
    Happy

    I have an idea that won't work too

    Why not just switch off the internet til all the kiddies have gone to bed? Just hook up Australia's internet to a powerstrip, you can usually get away with plugging as many things as you like to the same one.

    Then turn it on at about 6.30 - 7.00 in the evening. Now I know what you're going to say, but you have to be realistic. While most kids should be in bed by 6pm, some teenagers have been known to stay up as late as 7pm. Irresponsible of their parents I know, but you have to be sure you don't turn it on too early.

    Oh yeah, make sure everyone knows that the last person up needs to remember to turn it off before they go to bed.

  32. Steven Collins

    What is being missed here though ..

    .. is that the Internet was never, is not and never will be suitable for children! Keep them out!

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