Conroy filter gag sparks sysadmin rage

An Australian systems administrators' professional group has criticised Communications Minister Stephen Conroy for alleged attempts by his office to silence a vocal network engineer expressing an opinion about the planned government internet filtering scheme.

An Australian systems administrators' professional group has criticised Communications Minister Stephen Conroy for alleged attempts by his office to silence a vocal network engineer expressing an opinion about the planned government internet filtering scheme.

IT professionals' advocacy group SAGE-AU, which represents 1,000 IT professionals, has called for more public debate about the government's ISP filtering plans for Australia. The group has responded to a report in Fairfax papers that a policy advisor to Senator Conroy had contacted the Internet Industry Association's CEO Peter Coroneos for assistance in controlling the views of an employee of one of its members, ISP Internode.

"SAGE-AU calls upon the office of the communications minister to respect Mr Newton's professionalism and independence," the group's president Donna Ashelford said in a statement today.

Internode network engineer Mark Newton has publicly criticised the government's mandatory ISP filtering plans on the grounds that ISPs would face major network redesigns to meet requirements, increased costs and security threats to Australian internet users.

Newton first spoke out about his concerns at the release of the Australian Communications and Media Authority's first round of ISP level filtering test results in August.

ACMA's tests highlighted reductions in the impact filtering technologies would have on network performance, but also revealed serious shortcomings such as an inability to filter content shared over peer-to-peer networks; networks could be blocked but not scanned and filtered for pornographic content.

According to Newton, peer-to-peer communications made up between 30 to 55 per cent of an ISP's traffic.

ISPs potentially face a large cost if mandatory filtering is introduced. The network engineer has estimated that the smallest ISPs — with around 2 per cent market share — would face a cost in excess of $1 million to meet the government's "clean feed" requirements — a figure that would more than double to build in redundancy and ongoing licence fees.

The IIA has been a long-standing opponent of mandatory ISP filtering in Australia. Its stance on the issue since 2000 has been for ISPs to provide customers with filters or an optional filtered service, not to filter the entire network, according to CEO Peter Coroneos.

"Only the most repressive regimes in the world have attempted such an approach," the IIA said in its 2006 statement regarding mandatory ISP filtering.

It is understood that Internode and IIA have discussed the issue. Neither organisation has released a public statement on the matter, however, neither have attempted to silence Newton.

"Unlike Senator Conroy, my employer appears to have understood that whether or not one agrees with my positions, having the discussion is important," Newton told ZDNet.com.au.

"Senator Conroy, as Mr Rudd's delegate, is running around trying to silence dissenting members of the public, and labelling people who disagree with him as supporters of child pornography," he added. Conroy's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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