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Government announces NetAlert

15 August, 2007
By Allison Orr

The Howard government has announced a $189 million initiative that “will give families the tools they need to manage their internet experience”.  Under this initiative, every family will receive free filter software to install on their home computer, as will public libraries, and a hotline will be set up to help parents set up and use the software effectively.  The filtering software will be available for download from the NetAlert website from 20 August.

Part of the funding will go to the Australian Federal Police, who will have expanded resources and powers to check Internet chat rooms and websites such as MySpace and Facebook to detect child predators.

In addition to providing filtering software for use on home computers, the Government will enter in partnerships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to filter and block websites at the source.  Those who choose not to install the filtering software on their own computers will have the option to have an ISP-filtered Internet service.  Parents will be able to request this filter option when they sign up with an ISP and it will be compulsory to provide it.

However, groups such as the Electronic Frontiers Foundation have described the plan to provide ISP-level filtering as a form of censorship, and have said that it will impose costs on all Australian ISPs, will reduce access speeds and will expose them to legal liability as it is impossible to guarantee that all objectionable content would be filtered.

'We are also gravely concerned that this announcement is merely the thin end of the wedge. Once the government-mandated infrastructure is in place at all ISPs to supply this "opt-in" filtering, it is a very small step to change it to an "opt-out" system, or even a system where each and every Internet connection is censored by the ISP, whether the customer wants it or not,' said EFA Chair Dale Clapperton.

Communications Minister Helen Coonan admitted that feasability studies had yet to be conducted, but that the Government would only introduce filtering measures that have been shown to be workable.

The Labor Party also has plans to introduce mandatory ISP-level filtering, which would be imposed on all Australian ISPs and users would be required to opt-out.

Further details:
Press Release, MInister for Communications: NetAlert - Protecting Australian Families Online
Response from Electronic Frontiers Foundation: EFA appalled by filtering
Australian Internet Association: IIA Response to Government Filtering Policy

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