[This is what I wrote for Crikey, finally published today.]
Child Wiseâ€™s Bernadette McMenamin found out the hard way: geeks get angry when you suggest filtering their Internet. OK, she only wants to block child porn and other illegal nasties, thatâ€™s clear now. But the geeks are still angry.
- Two completely different problems are conflated. One, preventing distribution of already-illegal child pornography to anyone. Two, preventing children from viewing undefined â€œinappropriateâ€ material, but allowing access to others in the same home. Different problems need different solutions, but theyâ€™re jumbled together for political purposes. Naughty naughty, Senators Conroy and Fielding.
- Taxpayer-funded technical â€œsolutionsâ€ are proposed for social problems. As John Birmingham reminds us, the government is not your babysitter.
- Technical illiterates are demanding specific answers: filters. Those in the know are already several pages ahead in this story, and know filters wonâ€™t work. Geeks get angry when their knowledge isnâ€™t respected — even when it isnâ€™t understood (or understandable).
Real-world experience in everything from spam filters to the record industryâ€™s futile attempts to stop copyright violations always shows that filters only block casual users. Professionals, the desperate or the persistent will always get through.
However if a politician demands a filter, pretty soon a shiny-suited salesman will appear, ready to sell him a box with â€œfilterâ€ written on the front. Itâ€™ll work — well enough for the demo, anyway.
â€œLook, Minister! Nice Minister. Watch the screen. See? Filter off, bad website is visible. Filter on, bad website gone. Filter off. Child in danger. Filter on. Child happy and safe. Filter off. Voter afraid and angry. Filter on. Voter relaxed and comfortable. Cheque now please.â€
The UKâ€™s CleanFeed system is hailed as a model, but even its builders admit that it won’t stop the hardened paedophile. By obviously blocking some websites but not others, theyâ€™re showing the bad guys where to concentrate their efforts at breaking through.
Mike, creator of somebodythinkofthechildren.com, sums it up:
We donâ€™t want to waste money and pretend we are helping kids when we actually could be helping kids. You know, by funding health services and the police. A bloody filter wonâ€™t reduce how many kids are being exploited.
Just as the local council connects us to public roads, ISPs connect us to the public internet. They canâ€™t â€œfilter out bad stuffâ€ any more than councils can prevent kids encountering anything bad once they walk down the driveway. Unless we hold their hands.