Web blocking technically impossible: iiNet reminds Govt of undisputed fact


news National broadband provider iiNet has published a blog post reminding politicians of the fact undisputed by the global technology sector that the nature of the Internet makes it technically impossible to ‘block’ websites as currently being proposed by the Federal Government.

In February this year, Brandis gave a major speech in which he re-opened the issue of Internet piracy. At the time, Brandis appeared to back a scheme proposed by a coalition of most of Australia’s major ISPs in November 2011 which would see the issue of online copyright infringement handled through Australians being issued with warning notices after content holders provided evidence that they had breached their copyright online — and the door opened for ISPs to hand over user details to the content industry if the behaviour continued.

However, Brandis subsequently upped the intensity of his discussion on the issue. In late February the Attorney-General threatened to introduce legislation to deal with the issue of Internet piracy in Australia unless the ISP and content industries can agree on a voluntary industry code to deal with the issue.

And several months ago other elements of the content industry intensified its public pressure on the issue, telling media and marketing site Mumbrella that all options for dealing with Internet piracy were on the table, from court orders to target pirating users, to ‘three strikes’ mechanisms and website blocks.

In a post on his company’s blog yesterday (we recommend you click here for the full post), iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby pointed out, using a range of arguments, the fact undisputed by the technology industry that it is technically impossible to stop websites from being blocked, due to the fundamental nature of the Internet.

“We know the pointlessness of simply blocking sites like The Pirate Bay, when they can change their address in minutes. The Internet has no gate that we can put a padlock on,” the executive wrote.

Firstly, Dalby pointed out, there were literally millions of sites which hosted ‘torrents’ — the small files needed to distribute content via peer to peer file-sharing site BitTorrent. If one were blocked, even a popular site such as the Pirate Bay, then plenty of others could still be used.

“Sure, we can get a minute-by-minute list from the government of all the possible sites, and try and stop the plague of locusts with a can of fly spray, but who’s going to keep the list up to date, who’s going to police it, who’s going to pay?” he asked.

“Even when a popular BitTorrent search engine does fall, others quickly take its place. Blocking The Pirate Bay and other high-profile BitTorrent search engines will do very little to stop Australians using BitTorrent – file sharing is a multi-headed Hydra that government filtering and legal threats will never slay.”

Dalby also pointed out that even if the Government did ask ISPs such as iiNet to block specific sites, then users could easily bypass those blocks by using proxy services, including proxy services specifically dedicating to defeating government blocks around the world.

“Using a proxy service is child’s play, literally. School kids already use proxy services to beat school filtering and access Facebook and YouTube in the classroom. Other people use them at their work desk to outfox their IT department. It may not be right, and we don’t promote it, but let’s take whatever steps we take with our eyes wide open. Let’s not buy into the ‘futility-on-a-stick’ that Hollywood is peddling in Canberra,” Dalby wrote.

VPN services are also available, which perform some of the same functions. “VPN services are, once again, child’s play to use, just by installing the software and clicking a button to mask location and hide activities from prying eyes,” Dalby wrote.

“The only way the government could stop this traffic would be to block all encrypted traffic, a Herculean task that even the most determined dictatorships struggle to enforce. Anonymity tools, such as the TOR network (68.7 million hits), might still come to the rescue – it’s often used by political activists, but the impact of VPN blocking, on legitimate business users should certainly dissuade the Australian government from thinking about prohibiting or blocking encrypted traffic and VPN sessions.”

Then too, Dalby wrote, BitTorrent was not the only peer to peer network.

“Apart from peer-to-peer networks, which the government is focusing on its “copyright crackdown”, there is a wealth of file-sharing sites where a wide array of media files can be found. Once again, they keep popping up faster than they can take them down. If Internet users still can’t find what they’re looking for, there’s always the vast Usenet newsgroup archives.”

The iiNet executive pointed out that many Australians were already using the kinds of techniques he described in his article to defeat geographical restrictions and access online services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, which are not supposed to be available in Ausralia.

Instead of pursuing futile legislative change to restrict the Internet, Dalby advised content owners to revise their distribution model to make it easier for Australian customers to access their content.

“Once again, it’s all but impossible to police all the ways Australians access foreign content. Yet the government seems determined to pursue a simplistic and futile content blocking strategy rather than actually addressing the reasons why Australians look elsewhere for their entertainment. Years of ranting against piracy – while ignoring customer feedback – have got rights holders nowhere. Rather than declaring war on frustrated customers, perhaps we should declare war on the problems which have driven Australians to take their business elsewhere.”

“And to the content control freaks, we say – start treating your customers as customers, not the enemy, and you might find things improve.”