13 December 2008

Child Wise's fundamentally flawed argument for Internet filtering

One organisation that backs the federal government's plans to censor the Internet is Child Wise. Bernadette McMenamin, CEO of Child Wise, uses the following statistics to justify her position in a media release:

Reports show that these filters are very effective, with the UK system operated by British Telecom blocking over 35,000 attempts per day. During 2006, the Norwegian system blocked 1.7million attempts to access child pornography. The Swedish system blocked 15,000 attempts during its first few weeks of operation and resulted in a 40% drop in reports of child pornographic sites to ECPAT Sweden's Internet hotline. Telenor, a large European mobile phone operator, has been filtering child pornography on their 3G phones since June 2005. Each country uses their local authorities such as the police to determine what sites are blocked.

These statistics are quite misleading. The "40% drop in reports of child pornographic sites" is rather meaningless—it states nothing about the impact on the distribution of child pornography via peer-to-peer file sharing, which is the typical method that is used to share illegal content on the Internet. The big entertainment companies certainly understand this and they have fought to protect their sales by taking legal action against the makers of peer-to-peer file sharing software. Studies show that peer-to-peer traffic consumes a large percentage of Internet bandwidth. According to a report released by Sandvine, peer-to-peer traffic consumes 61% of upstream bandwidth and 22% of downstream bandwidth. Also, one doesn't need any technical expertise to realise that the number of illegal sites reported cannot be used as a performance measure on its own as we are unable to compare it to the total number of illegal sites that are in operation, which probably dwarf those that are discovered and reported. The same can be said about the "1.7million attempts to access child pornography", but what makes this figure more deceptive is that it only includes accesses to known illegal sites using a server-based protocol; it does not include accesses via peer-to-peer file sharing.

There is no doubting that Ms McMenamin has the welfare of children at heart in her efforts to introduce ISP level filtering across the board, but her case is fundamentally flawed.

Ms McMenamin provides contact details for media enquires on Child Wise's website:

Bernadette McMenamin AO
Chief Executive Officer
Phone:  +61 3 9645 8911
Mobile: +61 419 397 689
Fax:    +61 3 9645 8922
E-mail: office@childwise.net

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