Tag Archive for "scope creep"

The Scope Always Creeps

Three Statements

From the DIA press release titled “Web filter will focus solely on child sex abuse images”:

A filtering system to block websites… will focus solely on websites offering clearly objectionable images of child sexual abuse.

From a letter from Nathan Guy, Minister of Internal Affairs:

I support the Digitial Child Exploitation Filtering System that has been developed by the Department of Internal Affairs to help prevent access to child sexual abuse images. The filtering system will focus solely on known websites offering clearly objectionable images of child sexual abuse.

However, Rory McKinnon has also been writing to the DIA to collect information for an article he wrote for the NZPA. He asked: “Can the minister personally guarantee that the blacklist will not “creep” (that is, expand its scope to include anything other than child sex abuse)?” The response (written by Trevor Henry, Senior Communications Advisor, Regulation and Compliance – 17/7/2009) to this letter was a little different:

The Department confirms that the scope of the filter will be confined to websites carrying images of children being sexually abused but there may be circumstances when a website that contains text files might be blocked. For example, an instructional manual for child abuse or a diary relating to the abuse of an actual child might be blocked.

Scope Creep

You may note that the first two statements very clearly say that the only websites to be filtered will be those that host images of children being sexually abused. The third statement contradicts the first two. It includes examples of other material that might be blocked by the filter, such as a text manual or a description of abuse.

Now, maybe you don’t think that filtering a manual or diary about sexual abuse is that bad – but that’s part of the problem. It often makes sense to extend something just a little bit further… then a little bit further… until finally you end up somewhere quite different from where you started.

For example, if you can filter an article that describes how to sexually abuse a child, can you also filter an article that explains how to get around the filter to read the first article?

The Australian system experienced this exact problem. They started by banning objectionable images and ended up banning entire websites that revealed what was being filtered.

Trusting the Government

Now, it probably bears repeating that I have no sympathy for those who create and distribute child pornography. My argument has always been that filtering won’t work, and that doing it secretly will lead the government to abuse it.

On the second point, the DIA’s position has been that we have to trust them and whatever secret review process they set up. But why should we trust them?

They refuse to give anyone a copy of the full list so that it can be audited, and when asked for a partial version of the list without the full addresses, they revealed that they have started deleting the records so that no one else can audit them either.

Now we find that their statements about only filtering images are also incorrect. The scope of what they’re doing has already grown before the system is out of the trial phase.

Internet filtering is not going to stop child abuse or child pornography and any such scheme is too open to abuse by the government. We should abandon it now – personally I’d rather we spent the money on preventing child abuse.