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Government announces live test of Internet filtering

14 November, 2008
By Allison Orr

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has called for expressions of interest from ISPs to participate in a "live" pilot of ISP filtering which will "test a range of content filtering solutions in a real world environment".  This is part of the Government’s overall Cyber-Safety Plan, which includes a plan for mandatory filtering of illegal content at the ISP level and further optional filtering of content that is objectionable, such as pornography.  It also includes funding for education and outreach, law enforcement activities related to online exploitation of children, and improved help lines and websites on the subject.  The outcomes of the filtering pilot will inform the government’s decision making on the ISP filtering framework.

Prior to this "live" test, the ACMA undertook a laboratory trial of ISP filtering technology.  The report, Closed Environment Testing of ISP-Level Internet Content Filtering, found an improvement in the performance of ISP-level filtering since the last ACMA trial in both network degradation and overblocking.  However, the report also noted that “Despite the general nature of advances in ISP-level filtering technology between the current trial and the previous trial, most filters are not presently able to identify illegal content….”

Opposition to the plan

Many players in the Internet industry in Australia have voiced their opposition to the plan, saying it will be unsuccessful in effectively blocking objectionable content and slow down the Internet.

The System Administrators Guild of Australia has criticised the plan, saying it is "not technically sound".  US-based Internet lobby group Netchoice, soon to set up an Australian chapter, is also opposed to the Government’s plan.  A coalition of trade associations and eCommerce business, including eBay, Yahoo!, NewsCorp, Oracle, AOL Time Warner and others, Netchoice plans to bring Australian online retailers into the debate.

NetRegistry, Australia's biggest domain name seller, has said the plan would hurt small businesses.  Michael Malone, managing director of iiNet, one of Australia's largest ISPs, has said the filtering system would not work, would be simple to bypass, would not filter peer-to-peer traffic and slow down network speeds.  Furthermore, he described the Communications Minister as the worst in the 15 years of the Internet industry.

The Internet Industry Association has expressed support for the Government’s filtering plans, but is opposed to mandatory ISP-level filtering.

Previous articles on this topic:
NetAlert a failure, Government commits to ISP-filtering, 27 February 2008
New Report: ACMA report on Internet filtering and online safety, 27 February 2008
Rudd government to upgrade Internet filtering, 22 January 2008

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