Thursday, March 26, 2009

Public lecture

Loose thoughts by Bjorn Landfeldt

I will be giving a public lecture next Friday April 3, on the topic of the Australian Internet content filtering affair. The point is to provide an academic researchers view on the matter and to highlight some fundamental issues that makes it difficult to implement the proposed scheme, all welcome.

The lecture will be held at University of Sydney, the Peter Nicoll Russel (PNR) building in the Engineering precinct, 4-5 pm.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Councils getting rid of scuba diving in Sydney

Loose thoughts by Bjorn Landfeldt

One aspect of scuba diving is that you carry heavy equipment around, and it is important to be able to get close to the entry/exit point when changing and putting the gear on. Another important issue is to have safe entry/exit, shielded from waves and swell.

Pat Morin just forwarded an email by Michael McFadyen about Randwick council wanting to change parking conditions at Bare Island, so that the number of spaces is kept constant but the ones close to the island are removed or largely removed. For scuba divers this is of course an absolute disaster. Bare Island is the most popular Sydney dive site because diving is really good and there is convenient parking close to the dive sites. Already, divers cannot use Clovelly pool at Shark point for much of the year and getting out at the point is close to deadly (forcing people to try can really cause accidents). The parking at North Bondi was removed last year so that can't be dived anymore.

Why can't councils see that scuba is a recreation that has real advantage for the environment (divers care and help cleaning up etc.) and a great way to get eco tourism into the council, selling coffees, sustaining scuba shops etc. I don't think it wouldbe very costly to put in small wave breakers here and there and create good entry/exit points for us to enable access and minimise accidents. Look at Voodoo (shore version) for example. A small breaker running out 10-15 m with steps down could make that a premier dive site in Sydney at low cost. Let's lobby to make it happen.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Second black list made available

Loose thoughts by Bjorn Landfeldt

Wikileaks made a second list available on the 20th of March. The second list is a cleaned up version of the first list that now contains some 1170 entries.

Since the government threatened to prosecute any Australian involved in leaking the list, Wikileaks responded by threatening the Australian government with legal action since the action is firmly protected by Swedish law and Wikileaks operates within that jurisdiction. Interesting, is there an international diplomatic conflict about to happen as well over this? Perhaps I (as a Swede and Aussie) will have to chose sides, and which army to join after all :).

It is extremely stupid to distribute a list in cleartext in the first place. I have no idea who at ACMA decided to hand out clear text ASCII files with all the banned sites but it was not a struck of genius to do so. Why did ACMA not simply hash the sites and distributed a file with hashed values? Any filter implementation can still hash each destination URL and compare with the list without the destination address ever being exposed. It is true that there would still be people within the ACMA who would have acces to the original clear text list but the risk of spreading of the list would be much lower.

Wikileaks apparently also published a simple way of extracting the list from a down loadable software package from the netalert scheme era. Apparently, it is possible to extract a file with the conspicuous name "Websites_ACMA.txt". Well designed security software!! I wonder if the developers had dumbed down 3-year Australian university degrees......

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Swedish newspaper names Australia as the country that exercices most control of the Internet

Loose thoughts by Bjorn Landfeldt

Australia is getting quite a reputation among the international community as the country most controlling and censoring the Internet together with Turkey. Dagens Nyheter (DN), Sweden's largest daily newspaper reports on studies carried out by Oxford Internet Institute, Harward, Toronto Uni and Cambridge in a project called ”Open net initiative”.

It doesn't feel good to be put in the same category as Turkey when it comes down to freedom of speech and human rights issues in any form

The authors of the report are concerned with the prospect of censorship and what different regimes will use it for in the future. It is clear that content filtering will lead to segregation in the Internet user community and that well educated and computer savvy segments in society will be able to get around censorship much easier but the less educated masses will become much more limited in the information they will have access to.

Having seen the blacklists leaked in Norway, Denmark, Thailand and Australia lately (which the respective governments did not want) is a sign that current government's intentions may not be future governments intentions and since we know scope creep is a reality, there is definitely reason to ask what such a move might lead to.

It is not reassuring to read Access Denied from MIT press, which has an overview of the filtering activities going on globally. The state of Australia has not been updated since 2007 and the report still maintains that Australia is not seeking to implement ISP level filtering. Even though, when the report was written, Australia got hardly flattering reviews. From the report:

"Overall, though, Australia’s Internet censorship regime is strikingly severe relative to both its neighbor and similar Western states. It is not, however, at the level of the most repressive regimes that ONI has studied".

The most oppressive regimes here are China and Iran.

This is rhetoric used by our strongest allies, the US and UK.

It is also worth noting that Senator Conroy claims that we are joining other countries such as Sweden in our filtering efforts but Sweden seems to think we are an oppressive nation in this regard since there is no talk of mandatory, only voluntary filtering in Sweden (plus stronger freedom of speech and freedom of information legislation).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Master Fry is not only amusing, he is wiser than most

Loose thoughts by Bjorn Landfeldt

I have been a fan of Stephen Fry for many years now, I can't begin to count the times I have laughed at him and with him viewing various TV shows such as Blackadder. Stephen is one of those people who seem to be able to put eloquence in any context and make us agree and realise that yes, this is what we mean and think.

I recently came across this article from the BBC in which he talks about his relationship with the Internet and his view on some issues regarding online life and customs.

He has a metaphor I am particularly impressed with. He writes as follows:

"This is an early thing I said about the internet at the time things like AOL were still huge. I said it's Milton Keynes, that's the problem with it. It's got all these nice, safe cycle paths and child-friendly parks and all the rest of it.

But the internet is a city and, like any great city, it has monumental libraries and theatres and museums and places in which you can learn and pick up information and there are facilities for you that are astounding - specialised museums, not just general ones.

A red light district
As important as the more traditional cultural institutions?
But there are also slums and there are red light districts and there are really sleazy areas where you wouldn't want your children wandering alone.

And you say, "But how do I know which shops are selling good gear in the city and how do I know which are bad? How do I know which streets are safe and how do I know which aren't?" Well you find out.

What you don't need is a huge authority or a series of identity cards and police escorts to take you round the city because you can't be trusted to do it yourself or for your children to do it.

And I think people must understand that about the internet - it is a new city, it's a virtual city and there will be parts of it of course that they dislike, but you don't pull down London because it's got a red light district."

Damn, that is good!!

Blacklist leaked

Loose thoughts by Bjorn Landfeldt

So, it has happened. Wikileaks have obtained the ACMA blacklist from last year and are about to publish it online. Here is a link to the Sydney Morning Herald story.

I really petty the poor dentist who is now forever going to be associated with pedophiles, child molesters and satanists. I wonder if the neighbours in Brisbane will come over with cake and a pat on the back or with torches and pitch forks.

I really think it is wrong to publish the lists themselves on the web. Providing evidence that the lists have been leaked would have been enough since the people who will suffer will not be the ones intended. It must be recognised though, the posting constitutes the ultimate evidence that any system maintaining a blacklist is ultimately not trustworthy because of human nature.

What is really disturbing in all this is that inevitably, the list will be wide spread and children all over the world will be drawn to the ultimate among forbidden fruits, the really depraved stuff that adults create in their darkest hours. Had it not been for some governments around the world, this information, the sheer concentration and easy access would not have been possible. No single child will have the ability to compile such a list. It takes a distributed effort to do so. In effect, these lists constitute the concerned parent's worst nightmare.

I am glad I found an American filter I could install on my daughter's MAC, K9, since the Australian government removed the possibility of installing the netalert filters. At least, I have the power to investigate every site she visits so she won't get to the sites on the list.

I would recommend any concerned parent to consider installing filters at home because the genie is out of the bottle, it is widely known where to get the information and it is EASY.

I am also concerned with the content on all the lists that have been made public. It is clear that the authorities have put material on the list that is legal, and there is no transparency or accountability in place. Until recently when I actually gained an insight into what is on the lists I was much more naive regarding how the lists would be used. Now, I am concerned about fundamental rights, freedom of speech, religion, sexual preference etc.

It is time for a serious public debate about the core issues.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Radio national on Conroy's filtering

Loose thoughts by Bjorn Landfeldt

Radio national's background briefing will cover the government's proposed content filtering on Sunday.

I have no idea what the angle will be this time but I have a feeling Wendy Carlisle (producer) will discuss the effects of pornography on children and adolescents in addition to the debate on child porn and other illegal material. It will be interesting to hear what she has been able to dig up over the past few weeks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New torrent provider

Loose thoughts by Bjorn Landfeldt

An interesting development s the move by the Norwegian broadcasting corporation, Norsk Riks Kringkasting (NRK) to start sharing its own productions using Bittorrent. In fact, the torrent will use the same open tracker software used by the Pirate Bay in Sweden (not that it matters just notable right now during the trial). NRK will distribute its own productions while maintaining copyright and the move is seen as strategic as the company believes this is the best way of maintaining control over the material.

It is only a matter of time until all media producers make their products available over network distribution channels of course but it is interesting to see torrent used as preferred technology. I wonder how this will affect the debate on ISP filtering of P2P traffic in Australia. Clearly, with such examples, ARIA and the government can't claim that P2P is used for illegal purposes anymore and ISP level filtering (as is proposed to be trialled now) would have a much shakier ground to stand on.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

HD version of Panasonic DMC-G1

Loose thoughts by Bjorn Landfeldt

DP review have posted a brief hands on review of the new Panasonic DMC-GH1, the micro four thirds with added HD video capability.

A very interesting thought here is that you can get HD video capability with really good lenses and continuous AF pretty cheaply. Let's face it, manual focus is not very desirable when putting a camera in a housing and going down 20 m.

The thought of video and still capability sounds pretty appealing to me. I can imagine that some scenes just come out better with video but the stills are prettier in many cases.

Let's wait and see what the reviews of the camera says and also who will produce a reasonable priced housing for it.