About 70 people attended the Melbourne masterclass, in which Australian Pirate Party member David Campbell, of Newcastle-based company Clear Computers, explained how web proxies and virtual private networks (VPNs) can be used to bypass the government's planned internet filter.
Exit International was founded in 1997 by Dr Philip Nitschke after the world's first voluntary euthanasia law — the Rights of the Terminally Ill (ROTI) Act — was overturned. Five staff and 50 volunteers operate in numerous countries.
Nitschke's book The Peaceful Pill was included on the government blacklist leaked by WikiLeaks in 2009.
"As far as the Pirate Party is concerned, the filter is in place to make the government appear as though they're doing something. And because the filter is set to Refused Classification [RC] content, they could change the definition of RC at any point in the future," Campbell said.
The mostly elderly audience gathered at Melbourne's Hawthorn Town Hall for the seminar. Subsequent sessions will be held in conjunction with Exit International meetings in Hobart (15 April), Adelaide (21 April), Brisbane (24 April), Canberra (30 April) and Sydney (7 May).
"If the internet was a road and websites were a zebra crossing, they're putting lollipop guards to watch the crossing. Everybody else just jaywalks," Campbell said.
"Websites only operate on port 80 and port 443 by default. Ports are a difficult concept to grasp, but basically imagine if every computer on the internet were a city, and every single city had 65,000 ports for boats to dock at. The government is going to place guards at port 80 and port 443, which leaves us the other 65,000-odd ports to go through. It's quite limited as to what this filter is going to grasp," he said.
Campbell highlighted the ease with which web proxies could be found online: typing "free web proxy" into Google at the seminar turned up 17.8 million hits. Proxy.org, to which Campbell referred the seminar attendees, is currently tracking over 5200 working web proxies that can be used to bypass the filter.
Exit Australia's Philip Nitschke said that the filter "seems to be specifically affecting us [Exit International]. There has been a tendency to make it harder for people to get end-of-life information. I don't doubt that [the government are] concerned about questions of child pornography, but the idea that we're just some form of collateral damage that is just caught up in something, I just don't wear."
"Proxies are the easiest way to get around the filter, but they can also be the worst. You visit a website, which pulls down the blocked website to itself, then gives it a slightly different name and pushes it straight through the filter. But proxies can break some websites, especially the fancy ones. They're not the answer for everything, but they can get you what you need. But that's why virtual private networks are so popular, since they connect directly through an encrypted tunnel," Campbell said.
Many attendees "are not necessarily interested in the whole thing about the filter", Nitschke said. "They're here for the other reasons, and want to know about the changes in terms of availability of end-of-life information. But all of them can see the problem that's developing if the Federal Government continues with these various strategies to try and restrict the flow of information."
The audience listened carefully, took notes and asked intelligent questions about the implications of the filter on blocking content and identifying those trying to access it.
Inclusion of euthanasia-related information illustrates "the kind of scope creep we can expect from the filter", says Pirate Party Australia president David Crafti. "[Conroy says] talking about euthanasia isn't an issue, but discussing anything about it in detail is an issue."