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Rudd government to upgrade Internet filtering

22 January, 2008
By Allison Orr

Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has announced a plan upgrade the government’s Internet filtering system, introduced by the Coalition government last year

The current filtering system works by blacklisting sites with illegal content which local ISPs are then required to block.  The list is created and maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and is compiled from complaints by the public: only sites that receive a complaint are investigated for blacklisting.  There are currently about 1,000 blacklisted sites on the list, but it is estimated that as many as 30 million child pornography sites exist around the world.  Senator Conroy wants the blacklist to be more comprehensive to take in more illegal content and plans ISP-level content filtering. 

A study undertaken for the previous government indicated that Internet speeds might be slowed by a comprehensive filtering system.  There are also always questions about the effectiveness of filtering systems, given that they can be reasonably easy for tech-savvy users to get around, even teenagers, as was shown last year when a 16 year old student was able to completely override the government's $84 million filter system in 30 minutes. 

Senator Conroy has admitted it will be difficult and will not be 100 per cent foolproof.  He has also said:

"Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road," he said. "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree".

Industry analysts believe ISP-level filtering will consume time and resources, compromising the quality of Internet feeds to all Australians and impose extra costs on providers.  Filtering cannot block all offensive content and can inadvertently block innocent content.  The former Communications Minsiter, Helen Coonan, admitted that the so-call "cleen feed" system is unworkable, and does nothing to stop offensive content via email, chat rooms or any peer to peer system.

Electronic Frontiers Australia has condemned the government's proposals, pointing out that Australia would join "North Korea, China and Burma in the club of nations who censor their citizens' access to the Internet".

In international filtering news, the British government, who already have ISP-level filtering to block child sex content, has announced that it wants to use the same system to block radical Islamic content.  According to ABC News, the Home Secretary wants the Internet industry's cooperation in blocking this content, drawing an analogy between the militant recruitment of impressionable youngsters on the Internet and the online stalking of children by pedophiles.




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