We are opposed to the Government implementing Internet filtering in New Zealand.
Filtering Doesn’t Work
- The filter can’t intercept encrypted web traffic (https). It’s not hard to change your website from non-secure http to secure https. And, if you do, the DIA filter server can’t intercept it.
- The filter can’t intercept the file sharing, email, chat, instant messaging or anything other than unencrypted web traffic. (Although it does intercept people accessing those services via websites.)
- Adding new entries to the filter is a manual process. When websites are so easy and quick to set up, we don’t see how it’s possible for them to do a good enough job to keep the filter list up to date enough.
- The filter will only be used by some ISPs. If a number of major ISPs don’t use the filter, is there any point in implementing it for the ones that do?
- A motivated person can easily get around the filter. It is relatively trivial for a motivated person to use tools freely available on the Internet to circumvent the filter.
The Government has no Mandate to Filter the Internet
The Department of Internal Affairs has no mandate to filter the Internet and filtering is not covered by existing law.
It is not appropriate for the Department of Internal Affairs to implement this without appropriate laws being passed in Parliament in accordance with the normal democratic process.
Mass Filtering is Contrary to the New Zealand Bill of Rights
One of the major uses of the Internet is to for people to correspond with each other (email, chat, web forums, etc). Because the filter intercepts all traffic, not just web, for a particular network address, it will be intercepting and examining some of this correspondence.
Current New Zealand law does allow for the interception of personal correspondence, but only in certain well-defined circumstances and often requiring a search/interception warrant.
There is no law that gives the DIA the power to intercept Internet traffic. The DIA’s attempts to claim this power are contrary to the New Zealand Bill of Rights and therefore illegal.
Secret Censorship is Abhorrent in an Open and Democratic Society
The Department of Internal Affairs refuses to give out copies of the lists, claiming that the Official Information Act lets it refuse on the grounds that the list could be used to commit crimes, i.e. that the list will act as a pointer to illegal material.
However, this is in direct contrast to the provisions of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 that the Chief Censor works under. This specifies that all censorship decisions must be published each month. The Chief Censor complies with this by publishing a searchable list of decisions on the Internet.
It is not appropriate for the DIA to decide to unilaterally change the accepted legislated processes around the openness of New Zealand’s censorship regime.
The Government Will Abuse the Ability
A number of countries have implemented Internet filtering schemes in the last few years (voluntary and involuntary, commercial and public).
The common thread in all these implementations is that the list has always been expanded to include material that shouldn’t have been on it. The Australians added sites that told how to work around their filtering, the Thai secretly expanded their list to include sites that mocked the King, the United Kingdom blocked most of Wikipedia for a while.
Governments have a tendency to over react whenever the media whip up a moral panic. Any Government given this tool will be tempted to use it in such times in an effort to be seen to be doing something.
The Filter Weakens the New Zealand Internet
The filter provides a single point of failure that is vulnerable to attack (e.g. DNS poisoning)or poor management. It also adds an additional layer of indirection that could easily cause hard to find and debug performance problems for modern web-based applications.
The filtering system also provides a very tempting attack vector for hackers. Anyone who can subvert the filter can divert any internet traffic in the country to the site of their choice.
We believe that the DIA’s proposed Internet filtering scheme should be abandoned. It goes against principles of privacy and freedom from search, it is ineffective for its purpose, and it sets a worrying precedent that a government department can arbitrarily decide to block Internet traffic of its choosing.