Vint Cerf’s Message to Australia: Internet Censorship Isn’t Effective

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Source: The Australian

Google chief internet evangelist Vint Cerf in Sydney. Picture: Braden Fastier Source: The Australian

Julia Gillard’s bid to censor the internet is not an “effective move”, says Vint Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the internet and Google’s chief web evangelist.

Dr Cerf’s advice is to attack the source of a problem at the production layer, instead of focusing on the distribution layer.

The federal government wants to force every ISP to filter websites rated with a refused classification tag, in accordance with a secret government blacklist.

The Australian Law Reform Commission is conducting a year-long review into the existing classification scheme in light of new developments in technology — especially in the online realm, and in media convergence.

“This (policy) is an understandable desire to be protective of society, but technically I don’t think it’s a very effective move,” Dr Cerf said when asked to comment on the government’s bid to censor the web.

“The argument that there’s bad information out there and therefore we should somehow supress it — one counter argument is the antidode to bad information is more information … I think (web 2.0 pioneer) Esther Dyson was the first person I heard that from.

“This doesn’t mean however that we could not, as a society, agree that certain kinds of information are societally unacceptable.”

During a visit to The Australian’s Sydney bureau, Dr Cerf said there was a big difference between the production and distribution of content that might be unacceptable to the general public.

“Some people would like to attack problems of content at the wrong layer in the internet architecture,” he said.

The question to ask was: “Who is putting that information out in the first place? That’s the place to attack the problem.”

Dr Cerf cited the example of his debates with the late Jack Valenti, who used to head the Motion Picture Association of America.

Mr Valenti wanted to nab online copyright thiefs but Dr Cerf had to explain that his suggested methods were not feasible.

“I remember in one of them (debates) he said: “Vint, I want your routers to ring a bell every time a copyright packet goes through the router.

“Of course, the first thought is that bell would be ringing a lot but the problem is — (and) I tried to explain to him — at the level of packets you’re not seeing very much of the content.

“Imagine you’re the little guy in the router trying to figure out what’s going on in there … a packet goes by and it says ‘call me’ and then a few hundred packets go by and then another one goes by that says ‘Ishmael’ and you’re supposed to figure out that that was the beginning of Moby-Dick?”

The next step was to try and identify the person sending the packets, then determine whether copyright had been breached.

“And all this is happening at 10 gigabits a second!”

Meanwhile, on changes to the Google executive team, Dr Cerf said it didn’t come as a surprise.

Google co-founder Larry Page will replace Eric Schmidt, who will become the search giant’s executive chairman.

“Eric has done the job since 2001 … it’s time for Larry and Sergey to take more responsibility.”

However, he praised the government’s $36 billion national broadband network, saying he was envious of the project which he described as a stunning investment.

“I continue to feel a great deal of envy because in the US our broadband infrastructure is nothing like what Australia has planned,” he said.

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2 comments on “Vint Cerf’s Message to Australia: Internet Censorship Isn’t Effective
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