In December, 2009, it was announced that new legislation, entitled Measures to improve safety of the internet for families, would be introduced in Autumn 2010 after public consultation. The new legislation will support mandatory Internet filtering.
If you read some of the other insightful blogs written by Australian World of Warcraft players like Pugnacious Priest and Gnomeaggedon you may have picked up on some ominous musings about the “future of the internet” and our freedom to see, well, whatever the hell we want to see, as adults in Australia.
The government has was rumbling about protecting the children from violence and pornography on the internet for as long as I can remember. Probably since the day the first Australian used the internet.
The crux of the problem, or at least the problem with the early legislation, is that very few website owners host their content in Australia. It’s much cheaper to pay for hosting with a company out of America or Asia. And the early, free hosting services like Angelfire were always hosted outside our national boundaries. Outside our government’s boundaries.
If they found illegal music posted on a site hosted in Australia, they could have it removed and deleted. And they could arrest and fine the owner. But if it was hosted overseas, their hands were tied.
Then someone realised that even if the content itself is out of our reach in Australia, the user’s ability to see it is well within our control. Since 2000 a project has been underway to create the Great Australian Firewall. All internet service providers in Australia – the guys you connect to first in order to access the internet – will check what you want to look at against the government’s good and bad list.
I’m not going to debate about what is and isn’t justified as ending up on that blacklist. Most of the proponents of this plan have basically summed up their stance by saying “what is being black-listed is illegal content that you would not be allowed to see on film or in any other media”. I guess the argument goes that snuff films aren’t allowed in cinemas in Australia, so why should people be allowed to sit at their computer and watch them?
But there are two major problems, and one is directly related to video games – online games like World of Warcraft, in particular.
The first major problem is that nobody but the government is allowed to know what is and isn’t on their black list. Some stuff has been leaked, and websites that link to black listed sites get deleted too. I assume that talking about a black listed site will eventually get you black listed.
The problem is made worse by the fact that the government is already restricting internet users from researching and forming their own opinion about the Great Australian Firewall itself!:
After the Australian government announced plans to mandate Internet filtering in Australia in December 2009, an anti-censorship website (stephenconroy.com.au) … was taken offline … only 24 hours of being published online.
So, no, I don’t trust the government to keep their black list to illegal pornography in an effort to protect the children.
The second major problem is that we don’t have a 18+ video game classification in Australia. We can only legally buy, download and play games deemed suitable for 15 year olds (MA15+). If it’s more violent than that – we’re not allowed it.
The average age of gamers in Australia is 30.
In February last year there was a bit of controversy when it was revealed that all online games, because they don’t have a single, standard player experience, are technically not classified under Australian law. And if they’re not classified, they’re illegal to sell, buy, download and own. Yep, in 2009 we discovered that the game we had been playing for the last four years was illegal.
Retailers like Electronics Boutique were antsy and hesitant to remove all their copies of WoW, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online and other online games off the shelves – potentially losing their customers and their business. The government’s response was essentially that it was up to local law enforcement to decide if there were going to enforce this particular law or not… basically… they intended to turn a blind eye to the whole mess.
After the fallout settled down they quietly classified World of Warcraft, granting it a M rating for “fantasy violence”.
So World of Warcraft will still be playable once the filter is in place. You might need to say goodbye to some of the flash-based internet games freely available on the web – many of them are not classified.
Unfortunately, the filter itself places a heavy burden on our ability to travel the internet quickly. We may be looking at a degradation of our connection speed.
To support peaks in traffic, vendors recommend allowing additional network capacity of approximately four times the estimated traffic at the filter.
An early report implies that running the filter requires the ISP to provide up to 4 times the amount of bandwidth than they currently use to maintain their service standard.
The same report does consider how their test user’s latency changed when funneled through the filter. Frankly, the data here is just too sketchy. I don’t think enough users have tested it and certainly the test itself was limited to low traffic websites (the report admits that the filter could slow down YouTube and the like by about 20%). There are a couple of entries that imply the user’s latency improved when using the filter and the ISP in question goes on to say that they can’t explain how this happened except that it was probably due to some external factor and not the filter itself.
The most likely results report about a 2% increase in Latency.
I honestly don’t know enough about technology and how data is sent back and forth between a computer and the World of Warcraft server. Perhaps it will bypass this filter entirely.
However, I do think that overall our internet connection and data transfer rate is going to suffer and slow down. I know that we complain about 400-500ms right now, but I think we need to start enjoying a half second delay while we still have it. It could get much, much worse.
Writing this, I am ashamed to be an Australian. My only power lies in which party I vote for, and this project has been championed by the two biggies over the last 10 years.
BTW: If you’d like to read more, most of the facts and quotes in this article come from an absolutely excellent article about the matter on Wikipedia. Or you can read more about it here and here. Or you can watch this news clip on YouTube. Australian readers can also sign this online petition if you oppose mandatory ISP filtering.