Cloud Computing Doghouse Updates (Incoming): Australia’s Clean Feed

Today was a sad day for all Australians (and not just becuase of the horrific bushfires) – Senator Stephen Conroy (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, above) announced the start of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) Filtering Live Pilot. I’m not going to go into the myriad reasons as to why this is a full frontal assault on our rights, nor explain all the reasons why it can never work and why a limited opt-in trial is not representative of reality, talk about collateral damage or even point out the many ways that a tool like this could (and almost certainly will) be repurposed to invade our privacy and monitor our every (online) move – Wikipedia’s Internet censorship in Australia article does a great job of covering the main issues.

I will however point out that such systems can only have a detrimental affect on cloud computing which is heavily reliant on low latency, high bandwidth connections. I’m surprised that others have not focused on this before, but with consumers and business alike moving en-masse to cloud computing solutions like Google Apps, who in their right mind would interfere with the pipes that make it all work? Filtering systems are complex, orders of magnitude slower than dedicated network equipment, largely ineffective, easily circumvented and perhaps most importantly, prone to catastrophic failure.

Google’s recent high profile outage which rendered the Internet unusable for the majority of Internet users for almost an hour was due to a SINGLE ‘/’ CHARACTER misplaced in a filtering system. For many businesses, Internet connectivity is getting to be as important as other utilities like water, gas and electricity – without it they are completely paralysed. Even spikes in latency which affect functions like address auto-complete and interactive interfaces (think Gmail) can render cloud computing applications unusable. Forget the children (who could be filtered selectively anyway), think of the cloud! Besides, education is a better strategy.

For those of you who (like me) take offense to this latest attack on our liberties, here’s what you can do:

If you need a starting point, here’s what I sent to my old local member, Malcolm Turnbull (who happens also to be the leader of the opposition) back in October last year:

Dear Sir,

I write to register my strong objection to the “clean feed” proposal which is already once again already making Australia the “global village idiot“. A certified security professional I assure you that you are trying to achieve the impossible and as an Australian citizen I am concerned that this measure, sold as protection for society, will actually erode its very core. The scope for abuse of such technology is virtually unlimited and though today’s objective may be a noble (if unattainable) goal, inevitible future repurposing is a very serious risk that far outweighs any percieved benefit; it is indeed a slippery slope and short step from here to the systemic abuse of the most oppressive of regimes.

Furthermore, as an active proponent of the next generation of technology known as cloud computing I can assure you that any such system will impair both performance and security while being easily bypassed, damaging the country’s competitive edge and forcing business and personal consumers to pay more for already extortionate Internet access (in France for example a complete, unrestricted telephone/television/internet package costing hundreds in Australia is only €29.99).

Please reconsider this misguided proposal and divert funding to countermeasures such as education which will certainly be far more effective, in the same way that funds diverted to first responders would be a far more beneficial response to the threat of terrorism.

Kind regards,

Sam Johnston

And here’s what I heard back a few days later:

Thanks Sam for your email. There are many concerns about the manner in which a blanket arbitrary determination about web content will be imposed by the Government.

The coalition fully supports guarding our children from being exposed to inappropriate internet content and is of the firm belief that parental and adult supervision and guidance should be front and centre of all efforts.

We will continue to monitor the progress of this trial with great interest and make a considered assessment based on its outcomes. This will include analysis of the specifications and performance of the filtering methods tested.