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Songs on the Security of Networks
a blog by Michał "rysiek" Woźniak

In which I call upon United Poland parliamentarians to guarantee citizens the right to Internet free of surveillance

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

Ideas for porn filtering (“regular” porn; this time not talking about child pornography) tend to return like a boomerang. Hard to tell if members of Polish parliament, affiliated with United Poland, just discovered porn on the Internet, or cannot get enough of it and need some help getting that monkey off of their backs.

Either way, United Poland parliamentarians decided to introduce a draft resolution that calls upon the Minister of Administration and Digitization to guarantee parents a right to porn-free Internet.

The more he looked inside the more any sense wasn’t there

The title itself is delicious – in proposals like that it’s usually about the children. But not here. Here, surprisingly, the title claims it’s parents whom members of parliament worry about. Parents that, supposedly (and I’m guessing here), can’t control their own lust for porn. Do members of parliament base on their own experiences here?

The document offers so much to a careful reader! I, for one, had no idea that “pornography (…) generates an estimated 30% of the whole Internet traffic”; to be honest, I’ve been convinced it’s much, much more! But what do I know, after a paltry few years as a systems and network admin at the Warsaw University of Technology. Not really proper for me to question the authors here, is it? Yes, the number’s been pulled out of a rectum (as providing any sources is way below the dignity of a parliamentarian, of course), but it’s been pulled out of a rectum personally by a parliamentarian!

It also turns out that the “estimated value of Internet porn market is in the range of 5bln. dollars”, which again is a number supported only (or even?) by parliamentarians’ authority. “5bln. dollars” is a lot of money, maybe instead of blocked, porn should be taxed? United Poland claims economic solidarism (as one can read on its Polish Wikipedia page; not being a parliamentarian, I should source my claims), and yet – such hostility towards entrepreneurs, working hard for a loaf of bread.

Let’s move on, shall we? “Taking into account that pornographic Internet websites are readily available, also for children”… Okay. So it’s about children, after all. Children, whose “average age of first contact with such materials is 11 years”. Just wondering here what was United Poland parliamentarians age of first contact with completely non-Internet-based top-shelf magazines…

It’s a bit better further on, thankfully: “expert sexologists opine that contact with pornography at such an early stage of human sexual development causes a number of adverse effects, including warped perception of sexual sphere, and raised numbers of sexual harassment cases in schools”. So, United Poland seems to notice the sex-ed problem in Poland? Can’t be! Can’t wait for them to also listen to expert sexologists on how dearly needed sex-ed classes in Polish schools are.

Back to “worse”, though, as “current technology-based solutions, including parental filtering applications, are ineffective, as they require IT competences from parents and are costly, and in effect not broadly used”. First of all, no technical solution can be 100% effective here, there’s simply too many circumvention methods – regardless whether it’s implemented on home router or core network level. Secondly, it would seem to be a good idea to provide members of parliament with some basic Internet search use training; here, let’s start with a simple search for “free parental filters software”.

Let’s finish it off with a positive! “At this time parents have no way of providing their children with safe Internet access, that is access to Internet without pornography”, and that can only mean that all other true or imaginary threats have been cleansed from the Internet. Champagne and kudos all around!

The important part

That was just the intro, as at this point in our lecture we encounter the magic words: “resolves the following” and the concrete solutions extracted by United Poland parliamentarians from the immense depths of their wisdom. What are they, then?

Let’s quote the whole thing…

  1. Sejm of the Republic of Poland moves for the Minister of Administration and Digitization to prepare technical and legislative solutions which will guarantee parents a right to access the Internet network free from pornography.
  2. These solutions should follow these guidelines:
    1. Any person should have the right to demand their Internet service provider to block transmission of pornographic materials;
    2. An internet service provider should be responsible for creating effective filters enabling blocking transmission of pornographic materials;
    3. An internet service provider is required provide the right to Internet without pornography free of charge;
  3. Minister of Administration and Digitization shall present a proposal of such technical and legislative solutions within 6 months from the date of adoption of this resolution.

Or, in other words, “honestly, we have no idea how to do that; let the Ministry handle that along with ISPs, and the ISPs should foot the bill”.

I am impressed, though. United Poland parliamentarians make up for their lack of technical understanding with political prowess. A resolution built like that (if, by a twist of fate, it passes the parliament) makes the Ministry do the heavy lifting and ISPs pay; not only that, but it also forces the Ministry (not the parliamentarians, after all!) to conduct uneasy public consultations of the proposed Internet censorship solutions, which are (we know this after RSiUN and ACTA) a minefield. And in case of a failure, the blame goes to… the Ministry, of course, as the drafted solutions were bad!

Finally, one more tasty bit: nowhere, not in a single point of this resolution, is pornography defined. Which means that along with RedTube, Wikipedia and Polish National Museum website might get blocked.

Seriously on porn

Seriously, though, children’s access to pornography on-line is a problem which needs a solution, nobody is going to argue with this.

Preventive censorship on the Internet is not the solution, however – it’s uneconomical, technically nigh-impossible, and raises serious questions regarding basic human rights: freedom of speech, secrecy of correspondence, right to privacy.

The British example (or our own, Beniamin) shows such filters will be overused and abused, the catalogue of blocked content will be expanded to contain other topics, other kinds of content. Creating such a tool once will mean that it can and will be used for political struggle in the future…

Besides, it’s simply impossible to introduce Internet censorship without introducing Internet surveillance – can’t censor traffic you don’t read, just as you can’t censor snail mail without opening and reading it.

The right approach to finding a solution here is education. Sexual education and media competences for children and youths. Educating parents about existing technical solutions for blocking their kids from accessing porn, including free software and gratis solutions.