Content Filtering – A Revisit

After my last post, I sent an appropriately checked off copy of my own form to the folks at cp80.org. I didn’t really expect a response – since my form is a pretty detailed and scathing about the flaws in their approach. Surprisingly, a fellow by the name of Mattew Yarro sent me back a response. Since I have some fairly routine copyright concerns in this overly litigious age, I won’t publish it in its entirety. I will, however quote it somewhat in the spirit of public political discourse. If anyone in CP80 asks politely, I will be more than happy to take down at least some of their response (it depends on which pieces and how large they are).

Since they rewrote my original in their response, the next section is a set of rewritten bullet points and my response to them.

(X) Does Not Require the cooperation from content providers

Who, exactly, would be editing the httpd.conf files?

(X) Does Not Require immediate total cooperation from everybody at once

I’m willing to give you this one – my bad.

(X) Website operators will increase business

In your proposal – even given no secondary effects (unlikely) at least some content providers would receive fewer hits. I see no compelling business case for supporting your proposal. Without browser-level support, I see no effective way of advertising the use of the same content across multiple ports.

(X) Account for religious differences among internet users
(X) Allows nations to develop their own standards or subscribe to a world
standard of harmful to minor.

Exactly how do you expect Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands to agree on a standard?

Now for the really chilling parts

(X) Lack of centrally controlling authority for the internet will be changed
allowing for a centrally controlling autority

This statement is where your group shows tremendous sociopolitical naivite. Please see response below (licensing web servers) for details).

(X) Open relays in foreign countries will be shut down
(X) Wide availability of VPS services will be shut down

Do you even know what a VPS is? It is a virtual private server. I happen to manage one for an aids awareness/action group. If your group seriously supports shutting down wide access to virtual private servers (which can host email, news groups and web access for small organizations which do not wish to pay for larger infrastructure) they you completely fail to understand the value of the very tools you are advocating the restriction of.

(X) The existence of wide reaching anonymity services like TOR will be shut
down

I won’t bother asking why, but simply how? Have you ever read or written a paper on protocol – on – protocol tunneling? Stateful packet inspection and its inherent limits? Diffie-Hellman key agreement with perfect forward secrecy?

(X) The ability of anyone with $20 in their pocket to put up a website
with proxy capability will be shut down

The cure is worse than the disease. Please see above under VPS control.

(X) People with strong philisophical/religious/ethical/moral objections
to filtering information, who would be more than willing to
create/maintain circumvention tools, and be held liable for allowing minors
to access porn or be shut down entirely.

Describe how. Jurisdictional problems. Explain in detail how you would handle the difference between anonymity proxies used by rape/incest survivors to protect their online identities and personal privacy and those used unlawfully by underage persons. Also explain how you would handle multi-hop proxy routing, how you would avoid it, and how you would differentiate between presumably unlawful multi-hop traffic and reasonable single-hop traffic.

If the Internet is supposed to be a “true democracy” then why not allow the
people voice their choice of whether or not they want a more organized and
useful Internet. The Internet does not belong to you, me or anyone else. It
belongs to us all.

The CP80 solution is a method by which people free speech is protected and
the Internet is better organized.

Do not fear evolution. It is how you went from an amoeaba to a free-thinking
being.

The Internet can evolve.

I do allow you your voice. I’m not calling for censorship on a public forum. I’m not suggesting broad-based changes in the way public infrastructure is set-up, provisioned and managed. I think you’re wrong, both technically and philosophically, but that is not equivalent to an attempt to take away your voice.

If a group of people want to go off somewhere and, using PICS or some other technical measure, attempt to build a parallel infrastructure – I’m fine with that. If you think you can get business to agree with you based on some compelling business case, you’re welcome to try. When you start discussing broad-based changes to the way existing systems are set up and managed, without extremely strong evidence of a deep understanding of how those systems work, you will be laughed at. You will be ridiculed and reviled. It’s not personal, but it’s like the kids telling the grown-ups how to run things.

I did not present personal attacks, but rather a reasonably well reasoned indictment of your approach. My statements were based on seeing plans discussed, brought forth, implemented tweaked, rewritten and scrapped in the real world. I have built web servers, mail servers, chat systems, proxies, reverse proxies, routers and other infrastructure. I have designed protocols and had them fail for lack of deep enough understanding. I’m currently, with two other authors, in the process of writing an RFC draft for another protocol.

Your approach fails in several areas on technical grounds. Regardless of what I feel about your approach on philosophical grounds, a failure to address technical problems is a “deal killer” – it makes further discussion pointless. If you were backing PICS, I could at least respect you on a technical level. Having said that, there are other issues in my original statement which you failed to address.

(X) In order to be even minimally effective, it would require licensing web servers
(X) The objections raised in RFC 3675 (“.sex Considered Harmful”)

To this I add one more question. What are you trying to accomplish that cannot be better achieved using PICS, some combination of RBL servers, and ingress/egress filtering?

Just for Grins (honorable mention)

(X) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with content
providers becoming responsibile for their decisions.

I respect your belief in the fundamental perfectibility of mankind. It reflects well on both yourself and your organization. Unfortunately, you are bent on achieving a level of perfection much greater than that presently evidenced on a time frame which appears quite short for such a large change in human nature.

(X) Lack of consensus as to the harmfulness of content in general and/or
this content in particular among pornographers has nothing to do with this
decsion.

What? Your edit on this one fell flat. It’s incoherent – what exactly were you trying to say?

And my personal favorite:

(X) Technically illiterate politicians become technically literate

I have been working at educating politicians in the technical challenges of the Internet since the early 1990s. No significant success has been achieved.

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2 Responses to Content Filtering – A Revisit

  1. >> (X) Does Not Require the cooperation from content providers
    >> Who, exactly, would be editing the httpd.conf files?

    The content providers who want to remain compliant with the regulation. Those who don’t cooperate face potential penalties if in fact the content they are publishing violates content standards for the ports they are using.

    >> (X) Website operators will increase business
    >> In your proposal – even given no secondary effects (unlikely) at least some
    >> content providers would receive fewer hits. I see no compelling business case for
    >> supporting your proposal. Without browser-level support, I see no effective way of
    >> advertising the use of the same content across multiple ports.

    Business will increase because:

    1). Sites will not be over filtered
    2). More people will be willing to use the Internet (not shying away due to mature content)
    3). More people roaming the Internet discovering both large and small sites
    4). Adult sites in particular will be freed from non-paying minors who drain bandwith and CPU, and willbe better focused on adults, where they should be.

    >> (X) Account for religious differences among internet users
    >> (X) Allows nations to develop their own standards or subscribe to a world
    >> standard of harmful to minor.

    >> Exactly how do you expect Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands to agree on a
    >> standard?

    The CP80 solution looks at the potential for each country to set its own standard as agreed upon by the people of that country. The use of IP Adresses / IP Adress blocks would allow individuals to choose which content from which countries/standards they want to access or block.

    So if I live is Saudi Arabia and find most of the content on the Internt offensive, I can choose in my home to basically limite the access on my computer to websites hosted in Middle East countries.

    But that is my choice to make.

    >> (X) Lack of centrally controlling authority for the internet will be changed
    >> allowing for a centrally controlling autority

    >> Ths statement is where your group shows tremendous sociopolitical naivite.
    >> Please see response below (licensing web servers) for details).

    The fact that there is no governing body responsible to establishing and enforcing responsible social policies on the Internet is part of the problem. Without it, we have the chaos and lack of accountability that is forcing many people to either over-filter the Internet or disconnect from it all together–which in itself is a chilling effect as much as any government regulation.

    As the ACLU itself has suggested, it is the thick smoke of censorship that is just as harmful to free speech as govenment censorship.

    >> (X) Open relays in foreign countries will be shut down
    > (X) Wide availability of VPS services will be shut down

    >> Do you even know what a VPS is? It is a virtual private server. I happen to
    >> manage one for an aids awareness/action group. If your group seriously supports >> shutting down wide access to virtual private servers (which can host email, news >> groups and web access for small organizations which do not wish to pay for larger >> infrastructure) they you completely fail to understand the value of the very tools >> you are advocating the restriction of.

    I need to clarify that point. VPS in particular that would allow the publication of mature content over the incorrect ports would face legal and Internet-governance penalties as well as the possiblity of causing wholesale IP Adress blocking by individuals. To that extent, the abuse of VPS in that case would result in a “shutdown”

    To the extent that aVPS is used to properly allow access to content over the appropriate port, nothing would happen.

    This would also be the case of Open Relays, although regulating those is obviously more difficult to manage due to the nature of email.

    >> (X) The existence of wide reaching anonymity services like TOR will be shut
    >> down

    >> I won’t bother asking why, but simply how? Have you ever read or written a paper
    >> on protocol – on – protocol tunneling? Stateful packet inspection and its inherent
    >> limits? Diffie-Hellman key agreement with perfect forward secrecy?

    This one come potentially in response to parents having a better understanding of proxies and onion proxies. Where they may be legitimates uses of this technology, to the extent people are using it to transfer mature content, use the Adult Ports. Parents themselves, and minors, who have no use for this, will be empowered and educated to find these thypes of applications and remove them from their home computers.

    Part of the CP80 solution is educating people about the technological world they live in and making them responsible as well for the devices and access points they have in their homes.

    >> (X) The ability of anyone with $20 in their pocket to put up a website
    >> with proxy capability will be shut down

    >> The cure is worse than the disease. Please see above under VPS control.

    Once again, shutdown on the Community channel. People can setup and use proxies all they want via the Adult ports. Individuals who would want the entire Interent in all its glory would do nothing different (its the people who wanted a cleaner Internet that would opt-out of the adult content).

    But since a proxy intent is to allow anonymous access to Internet content–or since atleast it could be used that way–it would violate regulations restricting access to adult content over the Community channels. I suppose a proxy owner could require users to register and then track their usage of the proxy, but what is the point in that.

    If you want a proxy, use the adult ports and surf away. If you are on the Community ports, act responsibly to keep it safe for children to use.

    >> (X) People with strong philisophical/religious/ethical/moral objections
    >> to filtering information, who would be more than willing to
    >> create/maintain circumvention tools, and be held liable for allowing minors
    >> to access porn or be shut down entirely.

    >> Describe how. Jurisdictional problems. Explain in detail how you would handle the >> difference between anonymity proxies used by rape/incest survivors to protect
    >> their online identities and personal privacy and those used unlawfully by underage >> persons. Also explain how you would handle multi-hop proxy routing, how you
    >> would avoid it, and how you would differentiate between presumably unlawful multi->> hop traffic and reasonable single-hop traffic.

    That is what the central authority and real accountability is for. If you want the wild, wild, west, go play in the adult ports. They would basically have no rules, regulations or restrictions. But if you are bent on pushing adult content over the community ports, you would face the laws of your own country (and possible enforcement of those laws from foreign countries as a result of treaties), the action of a central Internet governing body, and the reaction of Individuals choosing to wholesale block a country’s IP adress blocks because that individual doesn’t want or appreciate the unregulated nature of the content coming from their nation.

    The point is, everyone needs to act a little more responsibly and be held a little more accountle for their actions.

    If the Internet is supposed to be a “true democracy” then why not allow the
    people voice their choice of whether or not they want a more organized and
    useful Internet. The Internet does not belong to you, me or anyone else. It
    belongs to us all.

    The CP80 solution is a method by which people free speech is protected and
    the Internet is better organized.

    Do not fear evolution. It is how you went from an amoeaba to a free-thinking
    being.

    The Internet can evolve.

    >> I do allow you your voice. I’m not calling for censorship on a public forum.

    Neither is the CP80 solution. In fact nothing is censored. Everything “legal” is allowed. It just needs to be organized so that Individuals have a better ability to manage that content. Otherwise, people are forced ot over-filter or disconnect, which in essence creates the type of censoring you are suggesting.

    >> I’m not suggesting broad-based changes in the way public infrastructure is set-up,

    Neither is the CP80 solution. It uses existing infrastructure to achieve its proposal.

    >>I think you’re wrong, both technically and philosophically, but that is not equivalent
    >> to an attempt to take away your voice.

    Actually, you are taking away my voice and the voice of anyone who wants the ability to choose what language/ideas they want to block and access for themselves, their families and their communities.

    The fact that the Internt is designed to allow everything is a value statement that someone chose and that is continually reinforced and that is breaking the Internet.

    A little organization and accountability would go a long way to make the Internet even more useful than it is today.

    >> If a group of people want to go off somewhere and, using PICS or some other
    >> technical measure, attempt to build a parallel infrastructure – I’m fine with that.

    The Internet is supposed to be for everyone, that was Vinton Cerf’s own words. And it simply is not. None of the measures that would allow a parent to manage an environment work, because all their children need to do is go next door where their are no filters. It’s broken.

    >> If you think you can get business to agree with you based on some compelling
    >> business case, you’re welcome to try.

    Thanks. That is what we are trying to accomplish.

    >> When you start discussing broad-based changes to the way existing systems are
    >> set up and managed, without extremely strong evidence of a deep understanding of
    >> how those systems work, you will be laughed at.

    We understand that a lot of people are going to be upset with the fact that the Internet needs to change to better allow individuals to manage their environments. We don’t see them as broad-based changes at all.

    But the fact is that technology is constantly changing. The software and hardware you use today will likely be sitting on a shelf, deleted or thrown in the garbage 3-5 years from now. That what technology does.

    Change is inevitible. It’s time we change for the better.

    >> You will be ridiculed and reviled. It’s not personal, but it’s like the kids telling the >> grown-ups how to run things.

    That’s ironic. When was it ever “grown-up” to create an system that grants minors wholesale access to adult content, like pornography, and then do very little to stop that access. When was it ever adult not to be responsible or accountable for your actions.

    >> I did not present personal attacks, but rather a reasonably well reasoned
    >> indictment of your approach. My statements were based on seeing plans
    >> discussed, brought forth, implemented tweaked, rewritten and scrapped in the real >> world. I have built web servers, mail servers, chat systems, proxies, reverse
    >> proxies, routers and other infrastructure. I have designed protocols and had them >> fail for lack of deep enough understanding. I’m currently, with two other authors, in >> the process of writing an RFC draft for another protocol.

    >> Your approach fails in several areas on technical grounds. Regardless of what I
    >> feel about your approach on philosophical grounds, a failure to address technical >> problems is a “deal killer” – it makes further discussion pointless. If you were
    >> backing PICS, I could at least respect you on a technical level. Having said that,
    >> there are other issues in my original statement which you failed to address.

    Any solution that does not have a level of enforcement is broken. So some sites use PICS and some sites don’t, or using it in a misleading way, or do not have the technical were with all to use it properly, how is that ever a solution.

    To this I add one more question. What are you trying to accomplish that cannot be better achieved using PICS, some combination of RBL servers, and ingress/egress filtering?

    How would PICS solve this problem? A kid using his PSP accesses a WiFi network that is available from his bedroom and surfs porn from a site that doesn’t use PICS.

    The answer is, of course, it doesn’t.

    I wish PICS were involuntary. I wish its use were required and enforced. But it’s not. So how is that going to solve the problem. To some extent, it only adds to the confusion of a parent trying to manage his or her environment.

    Just for Grins (honorable mention)

    (X) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with content
    providers becoming responsibile for their decisions.

    >> I respect your belief in the fundamental perfectibility of mankind. It reflects well on >> both yourself and your organization. Unfortunately, you are bent on achieving a
    >> level of perfection much greater than that presently evidenced on a time frame
    >> which appears quite short for such a large change in human nature.

    I think that is an unfair indictment of “people”. The masses are becoming aware of what the Internet and how to use it and why we need to act more responsible.

    We will rise to the occassion.

    (X) Lack of consensus as to the harmfulness of content in general and/or
    this content in particular among pornographers has nothing to do with this
    decsion.

    What? Your edit on this one fell flat. It’s incoherent – what exactly were you trying to say?

    The point being that there are plenty of studies and anectodal evidence that prove the harmful effects of pornography. We don’t need a general consensus, because the authoratives have already responded to this one.

    Pornography, especially violent forms of pornography, are harmful to everyone, especially children. So let’s not pretend that it isnot.

    (X) Technically illiterate politicians become technically literate

    >> I have been working at educating politicians in the technical challenges of the
    >> Internet since the early 1990s. No significant success has been achieved.

    As younger generations become politically active, as politicians learn more about the Internet, change will come.

    –Matthew Yarro
    The CP80 Foundation

  2. Jacques says:

    Thank you for responding.

    My responses to your concerns are as follows:

    > The content providers who want to remain compliant with the regulation. Those who
    > don’t cooperate face potential penalties if in fact the content they are publishing
    > violates content standards for the ports they are using.

    You want to move mature content to port 1001. That is as bad, from your perspective, as PICS, since it depends on the same type of self-labeling. In addition, your approach breaks existing cross-links, violates existing RFCs, breaks existing web spiders, breaks existing firewall configurations and has other technical and philosophical flaws not mentioned here.

    Besides, port 1001/tcp is registered for protocol “sabre” for the use of the application “Sabre reservation system gateway”. Has your organization attempted to file an RFC, or request an IANA assigned port allocation?

    > Business will increase because:

    > 1). Sites will not be over filtered
    > 2). More people will be willing to use the Internet (not shying away
    > due to mature content)
    > 3). More people roaming the Internet discovering both large and small sites
    > 4). Adult sites in particular will be freed from non-paying minors who drain
    > bandwith and CPU, and willbe better focused on adults, where they should be.

    I can far more successfully argue that breaking web spider systems and existing cross-links will decrease business in a way that greatly exceeds the minor benefits gained here. Bandwidth and server CPU are not inexpensive resources, but they cost far less then the disruption caused by the changes you propose

    > Actually, you are taking away my voice and the voice of anyone who wants the
    > ability to choose what language/ideas they want to block and access for
    > themselves, their families and their communities.

    > The fact that the Internt is designed to allow everything is a value statement that
    > someone chose and that is continually reinforced and that is breaking the Internet.

    > A little organization and accountability would go a long way to make the Internet
    > even more useful than it is today.

    What you are talking about isn’t voice. Voice is the ability to speak, and be heard. Choosing what I watch, read and listen to is already within my grasp. I have an address bar on my browser. It allows me to change what I’m looking at quite effectively.

    Your argument centers around an attempt to make those choices for other people. In the case of minors – there is a brief period of time between the time they start making their own choices and the time we presume, legally, their ability to make correct choices. During that time period, we do need some tools to help parents guide their children to make correct choices.

    As a 14 year old child, I was sufficiently skilled, technically, to bypass every one of the filtering systems you have described to date. The tools of circumvention have only improved.

    Out of a ~77 year lifespan, I expect that there is about a 7 year window in someone’s life where they might benefit from your approach. Out of this window, I expect that you would succeed for possibly 3 years. Beyond that, any person of reasonable intelligence would find some means of circumvention. Note that this is approximately 3.8% of their projected lifespan.

    What you have to show, in order to be logically valid, is that during those 3 years (3.8%) your proposal is sufficiently better than the present approach to justify the changes you suggest.

    As far as the rest of the community is concerned — they also have a browser, and it also has an address bar. They will view what they will, and if they are bothered or disgusted by something – they have, with the touch of a button, the capacity to look and listen elsewhere.

    > How would PICS solve this problem? A kid using his PSP accesses a WiFi network
    > that is available from his bedroom and surfs porn from a site that doesn’t use
    > PICS.

    > The answer is, of course, it doesn’t.

    > I wish PICS were involuntary. I wish its use were required and enforced. But it’s
    > not. So how is that going to solve the problem. To some extent, it only adds to
    > the confusion of a parent trying to manage his or her environment.

    PICS doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for exactly the same social reasons that your approach doesn’t work. What it also doesn’t do is break existing infrastructure, violate RFCs, break cross-links, etc.

    As far as the PSP is concerned – all it takes to block a PSP to the same effectiveness level as existing systems is to put a squid transparent proxy between it and the Internet. No new software. No new hardware. There is a reason that such a device doesn’t exist — lack of demand.

    Responsible content providers use PICS and ICRA. Non-responsible providers don’t, but will bypass your system just as easily. Perhaps you should spend a little time studying another basic concept — “asymmetric warfare”. It’s the core reason that we’re getting our asses handed to us in Iraq, and it’s the core reason your proposal won’t work.

    > The point being that there are plenty of studies and anectodal evidence that prove
    > the harmful effects of pornography. We don’t need a general consensus, because
    > the authoratives have already responded to this one.

    Actually, no. You have to respond to this one for three reasons.

    1) I have asked you on two occasions to provide citations for peer-reviewed studies on the subject. If there is substantial and well documented evidence, you should be able to cite it trivially. Certainly if I asked about the harm caused by cigarette smoke you wouldn’t have this problem. Unwillingness to cite substantive evidence goes against veracity.

    2) You cite, both here and in your website, that your position is supported by anecdotal evidence. I have stated before, and will state again that the singular form of data is not anecdote. Anecdote does not constitute logical support.

    3) You are asking for a new response and a new level of enforcement. In this argument I gave you the benefit of the doubt on whether the existing system was working by stipulating that it was largely ineffective. Even with this stipulation (still quite necessary in other contexts) you still need to prove that the harm caused by the ineffectiveness of the existing system is sufficiently great as to justify substantive changes.

    In order to be successful, you must argue that the changes to legal business operations (at an economic cost), and further legal enforcement (at a separate economic cost) will produce some commensurate social benefit. In order to do this, you must show to a reasonably certainty that the change in harm is sufficient to justify the change in social, economic and other costs. You must also show that these changes constitute the least disruptive means of acheiving a legitimate government objective. Given this proposal’s changes to governance and infrastructure, that is a high bar to meet.
    In addition to this, you have not responded at all to my assertion that your proposal would require registration of web servers in order to be even minimally effective. You have also failed to even minimally respond to my reference to RFC 3675. You seem to like quoting Vint Cerf a great deal. In RFC 3271, he did say “The Internet is for Everyone” and from him, in that context, I’ll agree.

    I have no problem with advocacy – what I have a problem with is a failure to pay attention to the ramifications of your proposals. Parts of your proposal address substantive technical matters, and should be dealt with on that basis. Other parts deal with social matters about which rational persons can disagree. I admit that it would be very difficult for you to change my stand at this late date, as I have held it most of my adult life. What is gained from the argument is a chance for other people, some not yet decided, to see the merits and flaws of both arguments. Your failure to properly answer my criticisms does not in any way harm me – but rather harms your ability to convince the undecided.
    I apologize for not noticing your message earlier and look forward to your response.

Comments are closed.