No opt-out of filtered Internet

Policy to be set after trial

Australians will be unable to opt-out of the government's pending Internet content filtering scheme, and will instead be placed on a watered-down blacklist, experts say.

Under the government's $125.8 million Plan for Cyber-Safety, users can switch between two blacklists which block content inappropriate for children, and a separate list which blocks illegal material.

Pundits say consumers have been lulled into believing the opt-out proviso would remove content filtering altogether.

The government will iron-out policy and implementation of the Internet content filtering software following an upcoming trial of the technology, according to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the filters will be mandatory for all Australians.

“Labor’s plan for cyber-safety will require ISPs to offer a clean feed Internet service to all homes, schools and public Internet points accessible by children,” he said.

“The upcoming field pilot of ISP filtering technology will look at various aspects of filtering, including effectiveness, ease of circumvention, the impact on internet access speeds and cost.”

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) contacted by Computerworld say blanket content filtering will cripple Internet speeds because the technology is not up to scratch.

Online libertarians claim the blacklists could be expanded to censor material such as euthanasia, drugs and protest.

Internode network engineer Mark Newton said many users falsely believe the opt-out proviso will remove content filtering.

“Users can opt-out of the 'additional material' blacklist (referred to in a department press release, which is a list of things unsuitable for children, but there is no opt-out for 'illegal content'”, Newton said.

“That is the way the testing was formulated, the way the upcoming live trials will run, and the way the policy is framed; to believe otherwise is to believe that a government department would go to the lengths of declaring that some kind of Internet content is illegal, then allow an opt-out.

“Illegal is illegal and if there is infrastructure in place to block it, then it will be required to be blocked — end of story.”

Newton said advisers to Minister Conroy have told ISPs that Internet content filtering will be mandatory for all users.

The government reported it does not expected to prescribe which filtering technologies ISPs can use, and will only set blacklists of filtered content, supplied by the Australia Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

EFA chair Dale Clapperton said in a previous article that Internet content filtering could lead to censorship of drugs, political dissident and other legal freedoms.

“Once the public has allowed the system to be established, it is much easier to block other material,” Clapperton said.

According to preliminary trials, the best Internet content filters would incorrectly block about 10,000 Web pages from one million.

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Darren Pauli

Computerworld
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