“Where would your government be without child porn?”

If it didn’t exist, the government would surely invent it.

Because it’s a great excuse for an internet censorship machine.

This isn’t a debate about whether child sex abuse is right or wrong. You know it’s wrong, I know it’s wrong, we all know it’s wrong. This is a debate about censorship.

Censorship causes blindness

New Zealand has an internet blacklist. A list of content that, if your internet service provider has decided to be part of the filtering project, you can’t access. Images of child sexual abuse are meant to be the only stuff blocked, but the list is secret, censorship decisions happen in private and if international experience is anything to go by, other content has a habit of turning up blacklisted.

What the filter is

Its full name is the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System. It’s run by the Department of Internal Affairs. It’s powered by NetClean’s WhiteBox, which was supplied by Watchdog Internationalwhich provides filtered Internet access for families, schools and businesses”.

The DIA say that they’re contractually constrained to only use the filter to block child sexual abuse material.

They say that:

“The filtering system is also a tool to raise the public’s awareness of this type of offending and the harm caused to victims. The Group agreed that this particular aspect of the filter needs to be more clearly conveyed to the public.”

So basically, it’s to make it seem like they’re doing something, because it doesn’t actually prevent people from accessing child sex abuse images.

The list is maintained by three people (pdf) (mirror), and sometimes there is a backlog of sites to investigate: “The Group was advised that the filter list comprises approximately 500 websites, with several thousand more yet to be examined.”

How it works

A list of objectionable sites is maintained by the Department. If someone using an ISP that’s participating in the filter tries to access an IP address on the filter list, they’ll be directed to the Department’s system. The full URL will then be checked against the filtering list. If the URL has been filtered, users end up at this page. The user can appeal for the site to be unfiltered, but no appeals have been successful yet (and some of the things people have typed into the appeal form are actually quite disturbing).

Is my internet being filtered?

The internet of 2.2 million ISP clients is being filtered.

It’s voluntary for ISPs to participate in because it wasn’t introduced through legislation, however big ISPs are participating:

  • Telecom
  • TelstraClear
  • Vodafone
  • 2degrees

Others are:

  • Airnet
  • Maxnet
  • Watchdog
  • Xtreme Networks

I assume, for the ISPs providing a mobile data service, the filter is being applied there too.

Why the filter is stupid

Child pornography is not something someone stumbles upon on the internet. Ask anyone who has used the internet whether they have innocently stumbled upon it. They won’t have.

It’s easy to get around. The filter doesn’t target protocols other than HTTP. Email, P2P, newsgroups, FTP, IRC, instant messaging and basic HTTPS encryption all go straight past the filter, regardless of content. Here’s NetClean’s brochure on WhiteBox (pdf), and another (pdf). Slightly more technical, but still basic tools like TOR also punch holes in the filter. The filter is not stopping anyone who actually wants to view this kind of material.

A much more effective use of time and money is to try to get the sites removed from the internet, or you know, track down the people sharing the material. Attempts to remove child sex abuse material from web hosts will be supported by a large majority of hosts and overseas law enforcement offices.

It is clear that the DIA don’t do this regularly. They’re more concerned with creating a list of URLs.

From the Independent Reference Group’s December 2011 report:

“Additionally 18% of the users originated from search engines such as google images.”

Google would take down child sex abuse images from search results extremely fast if they were made aware of them. And it is actually extremely irresponsible for the DIA not to report those images to Google.

Update: The DIA say they used Google Images as an example, and that they do let Google know about content they are linking to.

“The CleanFeed [the DIA uses NetClean, not Cleanfeed] design is intended to be extremely precise in what it blocks, but to keep costs under control this has been achieved by treating some traffic specially. This special treatment can be detected by end users and this means that the system can be used as an oracle to efficiently locate illegal websites. This runs counter to its high level policy objectives.” Richard Clayton, Failures in a Hybrid Content Blocking System (pdf).

It might be possible to use the filter to determine a list of blocked sites, thus making the filter a directory or oracle for child sex content (however, it’s unlikely people interested in this sort of content actually need a list). Theoretically one could scan IP addresses of a web hosting service with a reputation for hosting illegal material (the IWF have said that 25% of all websites on their list are located in Russia, so a Russian web host could be a good try). Responses from that scan could give up IP addresses being intercepted by the filter. Using a reverse lookup directory, domain names could be discovered that are being directed through the filter. However, a domain doesn’t have to contain only offending content to be sent through the DIA’s system. Work may be needed to drill down to the actual offending content on the site. But this would substantially reduce the effort of locating offending content.

Child sex abuse sites could identify DIA access to sites and provide innocuous images to the DIA and child sex abuse images to everyone else. It is possible that this approach is already happening overseas. The Internet Watch Foundation who run the UK’s list say in their 2010 annual report that “88.7%­ of all­ reports­ allegedly­ concerned­ child­ sexual abuse­ content­ and­ 34.4%­ were­ confirmed­ as such­ by­ our­ analysts”.

Someone could just use an ISP not participating in the filter. However people searching for this content likely know they can be traced and will likely be using proxies etc. anyway. Using proxies means they could access filtered sites through an ISP participating in the filter as well.

It is hard (practically, and mentally) for three people to keep on top of child sex abuse sites that, one would assume, change locations at a frequent pace, while, apparently, reviewing every site on the list monthly.

The filter system becomes a single point of attack for people with bad intentions.

The DIA, in their January 2010 Code of Practice (pdf) even admit that:

  • “The system also will not remove illegal content from its location on the Internet, nor prosecute the creators or intentional consumers of this material.” and that
  • “The risk of inadvertent exposure to child sexual abuse images is low.”

Anonymity

The Code of Practice says:

“6.1          During the course of the filtering process the filtering system will log data related to the website requested, the identity of the ISP that the request was directed from, and the requester’s IP address.
6.2          The system will anonymise the IP address of each person requesting a website on the filtering list and no information enabling the identification of an individual will be stored.”

“6.5          Data shall not be used in support of any investigation or enforcement activity undertaken by the Department.” and that

“5.4          The process for the submission of an appeal shall:
•    be expressed and presented in clear and conspicuous manner;
•    ensure the privacy of the requester is maintained by allowing an appeal to be lodged anonymously.”

Anonymity seems to be a pretty key message throughout the Code of Practice.

However…

In response to an Official Information Act request, the DIA said:

“When a request to access a website on the filtering list is blocked the system retains the IP address of the computer from which the request originated. This information is retained for up to 30 days for system maintenance releases and then deleted.” [emphasis mine]

Update: The DIA says that the IP address is changed to 0.0.0.0 by the system.

The site that people are directed to when they try to access a URL on the blacklist (http://dce.net.nz) is using Google Analytics. The DIA talk the talk about the privacy and anonymity around the filter, but they don’t walk the walk by sending information about New Zealand internet users to Google in the United States. It’s possible this is how the DIA gets the data on device type etc. that they use in their reports. Because anyone can simply visit the site (like me, just now) those statistics wouldn’t be accurate.

DCE filter Google Analytics

From the Independent Reference Group’s August 2011 (pdf) minutes:

“Andrew Bowater asked whether the Censorship Compliance Unit can identify whether a person who is being prosecuted has been blocked by the filtering system. Using the hash value of the filtering system’s blocking page, Inspectors of Publications now check seized computers to see if it has been blocked by the filtering system. The Department has yet to come across an offender that has been blocked by the filter.”

I’m not exactly sure what they mean by hash value, but this would seem to violate the “no information enabling the identification of an individual will be stored” principle.

Update: They are searching for the fingerprint of content displayed by the blocking page. It doesn’t seem like they could match up specific URL requests, just that the computer had visited the blocking page.

And, from the Independent Reference Group’s April 2011 (pdf) minutes:

“For all 4 of the appeals the complainant did not record the URL. This required a search of the logs be carried out to ensure that the site was correctly being blocked.”

Appeals are clearly not anonymous if they can be matched up with sites appellants have attempted to access.

Update: The reviewers look at the URLs blocked shortly before and after the appeal request to work out the URL if it isn’t provided.

9000 URLs!

The DIA earlier reported that there were 7000+ URLs on their blacklist. This dropped to 507 in April 2011, 682 in August 2011, and 415 in December 2011. Those numbers are much closer to the 500 or so URLs on IWF’s blacklist.

Where did these 6500 URLs disappear to (or more accurately, why did they disappear?). What was being erroneously blocked during the trial period, or was 7000 just a nice number to throw around to exaggerate the likelihood of coming across child sex abuse images (though, even with 7k sites, the likelihood still would have been tiny)?

Scope creep

Firstly, we weren’t going to have a filter at all:

‘“We have been following the internet filtering debate in Australia but have no plans to introduce something similar here,” says Communications and IT minister Steven Joyce.

“The technology for internet filtering causes delays for all internet users. And unfortunately those who are determined to get around any filter will find a way to do so. Our view is that educating kids and parents about being safe on the internet is the best way of tackling the problem.”’

Then it was said that:

“The filter will focus solely on websites offering clearly illegal, objectionable images of child sexual abuse.”

and

Keith Manch said the filtering list will not cover e-mail, file sharing or borderline material.” [emphasis mine]

One would assume from “images of child sexual abuse” that they would be, you know, images of children being sexually abused. However, it seems that CGI and drawings (Hentai) have made the list.

From the minutes of the Independent Reference Group’s October 2010 meeting:

“Aware that the inclusion of drawings or computer generated images of child sexual abuse may be considered controversial, officials advised that there are 30 such websites on the filtering list [that number is now higher, 82 as of December 2011]. Nic McCully advised that officials had submitted computer generated images for classification and she considered that only objectionable images were being filtered.”

The arguments around re-victimization kind of fall apart when you’re talking about a drawing.

And from the borderline material file:

“The Group was asked to look at a child model website in Russia. The young girl featured on the site appears in a series of 43 photo galleries that can be viewed for free. Apparently the series started when the girl was approximately 9 years old, with the latest photographs showing her at about 12 years old. The members’ part of the site contains more explicit photos and the ability to make specific requests. While the front page of the website is not objectionable, the Group agreed that the whole purpose of the site is to exploit a child and the site can be added to the filter list.”

Clearly illegal, objectionable images of child sexual abuse? No, but we think it should be filtered so we went and did that.

Dodgy DIA

The DIA was secretive about the filter being introduced in the first place. Their first press release about it was two years after a trial of the system started. I wonder how many of those customers using an ISP participating in the trial knew their internet was being filtered during that time?

The Independent Reference Group is more interesting than independent. Steve O’Brien is a member of the group. He’s the manager of the Censorship Compliance Unit. To illustrate this huge conflict of interest, he is the one who replies to Official Information Act requests about the filter. Because the Censorship Compliance Unit operate it.

The Group was advised that the issue of Steve O’Brien’s membership had been raised in correspondence with the Minister and the Department. Steve O’Brien offered to step down if that was the wish of the Group and offered to leave the room to allow a discussion of the matter. The Group agreed that Steve O’Brien’s continued membership makes sense.” [emphasis mine]

That was the only explanation given. That it makes sense that he is a member. Of the group that is meant to be independent.

Additionally, the DIA seems to have accidentally deleted some reports that they should have been keeping.

From Tech Liberty:

“Last year we used the Official Information Act to ask for copies of the reports that the inspectors [have] used to justify banning the websites on the list. The DIA refused. After we appealed this refusal to the Ombudsman, the DIA then said that those records had been deleted and therefore it was impossible for them to give them to us anyway. The Department has an obligation under the Public Records Act to keep such information.

We complained to the Chief Archivist, who investigated and confirmed that the DIA had deleted public records without permission. He told us that the DIA has promised to do better in the future, but naturally this didn’t help us access the missing records.”

List review

The Code of Practice says:

“4.3    The list will be reviewed monthly, to ensure that it is up to date and that the possibility of false positives is removed. Inspectors of Publications will examine each site to ensure that it continues to meet the criteria for inclusion on the filtering list.”

It’s unlikely this actually happens.

Here’s some statistics of how many URLs have been removed.

December 2011
267 removed

August 2011
0 removed

April 2011
108 removed

It’s impossible that between April and August there were no URLs to remove.

In the Independent Reference Group’s December 2011 report it seemed like the following was included because it happens so rarely:

“The list has been completely reviewed and sites that are no longer accessible or applicable (due to the removal of Child Exploitation Material) have been removed.”

The Independent Reference Group has the power to review sites themselves. But in at least one case, they chose not to:

“Members of the Group were invited to identify any website that they wish to review. They declined to do so at this stage.”

 

The filter isn’t covered by existing law and didn’t pass through Parliament. Appropriate checks and balances have not taken place. The DIA did this on their own.

By law, the Classification Office has to publish its decisions, which they do. The DIA’s filter isn’t covered under any law, and they refuse to release their list. The DIA say that people could use the list to commit crimes, but the people looking for this material will have already found it.

What if the purpose of the filter changes? The DIA introduced it without a law change, the DIA can change it without a law change. What if they say “if ISPs don’t like it, they can opt out of the filter”? How many ISPs will quit?

The only positive is that the filter is opt in for ISPs. Please support the ISPs that aren’t using the filter. Support them when they’re accused of condoning child pornography, and support them when someone in government decides that the filter should be compulsory for all ISPs.

 

Side note: why does all of the software on the DIA’s family protection list, bar one, cost money? There is some excellent, or arguably better, free software available. There’s even a free version of SiteAdvisor, but the DIA link to the paid one. Keep in mind that spying on your kids is creepy. Talk to them, don’t spy. The video for Norton Online Family hilariously and ironically goes from saying “This collaborative approach makes more sense than simply spying on your child’s internet habits [sitting down and talking — which is absolutely correct]” to talking about tracking web sites visited, search history, social networking profiles, chat conversations and then how they can email you all about them. Seriously. Stay away.

Image credit: Andréia Bohner

Congratulations Internets

But your work is not over.

Wikipedia SOPA PIPA Blackout Protest

On January 18 the users and companies of the internet rallied together to protest against SOPA and PIPA, bills that would censor the internet. Check out the numbers. It worked. Here‘s part of a huge list, with even bigger names on it of the sites that participated in the blackout. Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing and Wired are among them. Here’s the page Wikipedia displayed. The Wikipedia page about SOPA and PIPA was accessed more than 162 million times during the 24 hours the site was blacked out. More than eight million people looked up their elected representatives’ contact information via Wikipedia’s tool, crashing the Senate’s website. At one point, 1% of all tweets on Twitter included the #wikipediablackout hashtag.

SOPA? PIPA?

Is it over?

It is likely the bills will be back in one form or another:

What’s the best way for me to help? (for U.S. citizens)

The most effective action you can take is to call your representatives [phone calls have the most impact] in both houses of Congress, and tell them you oppose SOPA, PIPA, and the thinking behind them.[9]

What’s the best way for me to help? (for non-U.S. citizens)

Contact your country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs or similar government agency. Tell them you oppose SOPA and PIPA, and any similar legislation. SOPA and PIPA will affect websites outside of the United States, and even sites inside the United States (like Wikipedia) that also affect non-American readers — like you. Calling your own government will also let them know you don’t want them to create their own bad anti-Internet legislation.

For New Zealanders, that’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Their contact details are here.

Megaupload

Megaupload’s website was taken down a day after the protest (without trial), with related people being arrested in New Zealand, and property confiscated. Are we okay with helping enforce US copyright law which, as SOPA and PIPA shows is heavily influenced by the entertainment industry? Is this what extradition should be used for?

It appears, at first glance, that Megaupload was removing infringing material on request. Although it seems their take down procedure was molded around the way they store files–only storing one copy of it if it is uploaded more than once, but giving out a unique URL for the file.

Megaupload has many similarities to other websites, which makes this concerning. It was definitely used for legitimate and legal purposes by legitimate users.

Tech Liberty asks do we need to obey laws from other countries while on the internet, if so, what countries?

Even if I have a web host in one country, what if they provide services via another country? The internet is so connected, how do we know whose laws apply?

Image credit: LoveNMoreLove/Wikipedia

Doing The Government’s Work For Them

Internet surveillance, censorship, and avenues of resistance with anonymity with Jacob Appelbaum, Researcher and Hacker, The Tor Project.

Go watch Jacob’s talk here.
Jacob Appelbaum talkPoints I found interesting:

  • The concept of lawful surveillance. We make it compulsory for telecom providers to make their networks buggable. Would there be outrage if a law was passed that every road must have a camera and microphone on it?
  • If you’re not paying for something, you’re the product.
  • Visualize your cellphone as a tracking device that can also make calls, go on the internet and text people. If the government forced you to carry it everywhere, you’d riot in the streets. They don’t need to; you do their work for them. You carry it with you, willingly.

Parks and Recreation: Censorship Edition

Odd Future Toronto

Calum Bennachie complained about Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All being scheduled to play at the Big Day Out in Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium because of their homophobic and misogynistic lyrics.

He sent the email to aspiring Chief Censor Sandra Coney, Chairperson of Auckland Council’s Parks, Recreation and Heritage Forum, among other people. She did some Youtubing, got in touch with John Brockies, the CEO of Regional Facilities Auckland who manages Mt Smart Stadium, and just like that, after a discussion with BDO organizers, OFWGKTA are playing Auckland’s BDO no more.

Change of heart?

This is clearly as a result of pressure from well-connected people and not BDO organizers realizing that they don’t want Odd Future as part of their lineup–they’re still playing the other BDO shows, and BDO’s promoter is organizing a solo show for them in Auckland. I await the results of many an official information request as to what the discussion with BDO organizers actually entailed.

Freedom of speech

There would be no issue if Odd Future weren’t invited to any BDO shows at all, or if, instead of being banished, they performed on a stage separate to the other acts.

I’ve read people talking about “a line” that can be crossed, referring to how far freedom of speech can go. That line doesn’t exist. You can take freedom of speech or leave it. It doesn’t exist to protect inoffensive speech or only popular viewpoints. Just because you know you’re right, doesn’t mean that “wrong” speech should be protected any less.

Image credit: Theo Grontis/thecomeupshow

“So how do you feel about your light bulbs being stolen?”

Arie Smith-Voorkamp was the face of Christchurch earthquake looting because of the media attention he received. He made it onto at least one of the <insert bad thing here> the [email protected]@#%^## Facebook groups. Shame on the looters! There is no excuse. Who are they to pick on the poor people of Christchurch?

The loot

The story gets interesting when you find out what he is alleged to have stolen. Two light bulbs from an untenanted and vacant building. Police describe the nature of the offending as serious and say that there is a strong public interest in the case. Arie was in jail for 11 days.

Asperger’sEarthquake Damaged Building

Arie has Asperger’s syndrome which fuels his obsession for all things electrical, including old light fittings. “Sometimes I get that excited about it sometimes I can’t sleep.” He had walked past the building many times, and became fixated on a switch in the shop. Once inside he found that the switch was too modern, but found two light bulbs that he thought he could clean up and display in his house. He says he was not thinking about theft, or the danger he was placing himself in.

Sunday programme

The Sunday programme ran a story about Arie last week, which seemed to excite the Police. Canterbury Central Police Area Commander Inspector Derek Erasmus suggested to the building owners they call TVNZ to try to stop the story going to air.

“On Friday the Sunday programme received an email from Inspector Erasmus advising us that we were under criminal investigation in relation to our story. So we’ll keep you updated on that.”

The victims

Building owners Andrew and Irene Matsis didn’t even know about the “theft” until Sunday contacted them for the story. This seems to contradict the Police calling the offending serious. Surely in serious offending the victims would actually be notified.

“Well since Sunday interviewed the Matsis’ a fortnight ago, senior Police have visited the couple twice. The first time Thursday and again Friday. On Thursday in a press release Inspector Derek Erasmus, said the Matsis’ were now happy for the case to proceed to court, where the matter should be resolved. Sunday spoke to Andrew Matsis just hours ago, he’s happy for the case to go to court but hopes Arie’s name will be cleared.”

On the programme, Andrew says if he knew about the alleged looting he would’ve been angry at Arie for putting himself in danger, not for pinching anything.

Andrew and Irene say they would not have pressed charges if they were contacted by the Police. The interview resulted in the hilarious question: “So… how do you feel about your lightbulbs being stolen?” to which Irene replied: “We do not care about our lightbulbs, he’s welcome to them. And you can tell the Police, I mean we have more important things [to deal with, our] house is falling down and we’re going to worry about light bulbs? No.”

I know stealing is stealing (though is it in this case if the building owners say he is welcome to the light bulbs, abeit after the fact?), but common sense dictates there is a better use of court time and money than to make an example out of someone who offended as a result of a documented disability, who has an unblemished criminal record, and who has already served jail time just because he took a couple of lighting fixtures.

Andrew Matsis: You said you never had any other history of doing anything like that before?
Arie Smith-Voorkamp: No.
AM: First time with the Police?
ASV: Yes.
AM: And they make a court case. What a waste of money.

What do you think? Is there no excuse for looting, no matter the situation?

Image credit: Me

Judging a Book By Its Cover

A book on the deaths of the Kahui Twins, written by Ian Wishart in conjunction with Macsyna King, is going to be released soon. A bookshop advisory on new titles was leaked to TVNZ and publicity around the book started earlier than intended, unfortunately directly coinciding with the inquest into the death of the twins.

A Facebook group is calling for the boycott of the book, and apparently the boycott of shops who choose to sell the book, and a couple of bookstores listened. From reading some of the comments on the page, it is clear that some commenters are misinformed. Paper Plus and The Warehouse have both said that their stores won’t be stocking the book. Whitcoulls is still considering whether it will or not. Paper Plus chief executive Rob Smith said: “The health and wellbeing of children is always front of our mind when we are faced with decisions which might impact the stores and the communities in which they operate”. It’s not clear to me how stocking a book not intended for children, and which doesn’t encourage child abuse would impact the health and wellbeing of children. There actually isn’t a clear reason why the book is harmful at all, nor is there a clear reason why it shouldn’t be stocked, apart from “we don’t like it/Macsyna”. Like Steven Price says, no one has actually read the book, how can they make an informed decision that they don’t like it?

Censorship causes blindnessMacsyna King cooperated with the police and was a prosecution witness, she hasn’t just decided to speak now. She isn’t profiting from the book either, Ian says: “Apart from sharing a Domino’s pizza during lunch, Macsyna has never received anything nor will she.” Ian will earn money for the book, but points out that researching and publishing a book takes time and money and that media organizations get paid for their reporting too (apologies if there’s a country block on the video): “When I worked for TVNZ, I earned a six figure salary to do investigations into cases like this one. I had the luxury of expenses being covered, helicopters at my beck and call, and lots of lovely advertising to pay for all this.”

Books like Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler (Amazon, Book Depository) are stocked not because the sellers agree with the content, or approve of the author, but because as a society we value all viewpoints, although don’t necessarily agree with them.

Booksellers New Zealand, which represents Paper Plus and many others, says such a move is rare, and dangerous.

“It would be an attack on democracy if we started banning books that some people didn’t like,” said Booksellers. “It’s a matter of personal choice and it’s something we cherish in our democracy”.

Perhaps ironically, criticism was directed towards family members who didn’t want to speak out at the time of the death of the twins. Now someone is speaking out and people don’t want to listen to her. It’s great that companies are taking feedback into consideration, but maybe this a case of the loud minority being listened to. Boycotting a book by deciding not to buy it yourself is fine, but those people shouldn’t make a decision on behalf of everyone else. Macsyna King wants to shed some light on how her lifestyle was molded, maybe we should be listening.

Do you think the book should be stocked? Will you read it?

Image credit: Tracey R