Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Stephen Conroy, Asher Moses, China, Banning Bing and Bill, and crypto wars

As we anxiously await Piers Akerman's spin on the lucky country theoretically avoiding recession at the moment - even if by a humble 0.4% of increase in GDP - we were excited to learn that China is blocking access to Microsoft's new search engine Bing, and its Hotmail email service in anticipation of a bit of bother about the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square business. (China blocks Bing ahead of Tinanmen anniversary).

This has nothing to do with Bill Gates being the anti-Christ or Microsoft being the headquarters of Satan, whatever you might have thought of this site's recent convincing demonstration by way of numbers that Bill Gates' name heralds the sign of that rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem. No, it's just social engineering of the kind beloved of centralist, censoring governments.

It seems that YouTube has been blocked inside China since March, while Flickr, Opera, Live, Wordpress and Blogger have also bitten the dust (well there goes the Chinese readership and I used to boast about how these words were available to billions to read, even if with an imperfect grasp of the lingo.  Now how will the Chinese people come to understand that chook means chicken means fowl bird?)

But what an inspiration and guide the Chinese government is for that foul bird Senator Conroy and his wonderful internet ISP level filter, which by happenstance also made the news this day, thanks to the ongoing and assiduous coverage of Asher Moses in his article Internet Filter: $44.5m and no goal in sight.

Which is good, because of course if the government ever implements the filter, it will also provide manna from heaven as journalists daily recount the stupidities and bungles of sites wrongly filtered for inept reasons. Moses already has an impressive list culled from the current 1,000 or so sites on the government's recently exposed black list, but no doubt Conroy and his team of bureaucrats can add to the tally on a willy nilly basis once they get going.

Moses collects a couple of tasty quotes in his ongoing beat up of the saga:

EFA spokesman Colin Jacobs said: "The pilot seems to have been a political exercise in deflecting criticism. Without any benchmarks, the Government can claim it was a success regardless of the cost or performance issues that ISPs encounter."

ISP engineer and filtering critic Mark Newton said: "If I spent several hundred thousand dollars on a technology trial at work without having any idea about what the trial was attempting to test, I'd probably be out of a job."

Yes yes I know I bash on about this like a two string out of tune banjo, but I'm ever so grateful for Moses' ongoing persecution of Conroy, whose spokesperson naturally declined a comment.

There's nothing due to come out until the results of the filtering trials are published in July, but the burrowing Moses found out that the government hasn't got any success criteria "as such", by making an FOI request.

Maintain the rage, I say, and look to China to see where a government in charge of filtering the tubes at an ISP level gets you. And before anyone accuses me of alarmist hysteria, damn right, I'll admit to alarmist hysteria. The thought of an encryption war or proxy surfing the web fills me with ennui and tedium, and is so last year in America. 

See Former Prosecutor: ISP Content Filtering Might be a 'Five Year Felony' in Wired, which raises the question of whether - if Conroy ever travels to the United States - he could be given a rap sheet for content abuse.

I know, I know, it's just a dream, an idle fantasy, like imagining Dick Cheney might be winging in to Spain to make a point about the right to torture, but we can all enjoy a good dream.

One thing caught my eye in the Wired story:

When asked whether Verizon tried to numerically identify known child pornography images, McKeehan said it had given up on a trial of software to check email attachments, in part because the technology can be defeated by changing a single pixel in the image or slightly resizing it.

"They may be perverts but they are not stupid," McKeehan said

To which we might add a corollary. You may be pure of heart but it doesn't stop you being stupid.

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