A pilot test of the Rudd Government’s plan for mandatory Internet filtering will begin on Christmas Eve. However, an Opposition movement, including Internet service providers and technical experts, have voiced their concerns about the effects of the plan on civil liberties.
The cyber-safety plan will use two filters, one of which is optional and aims to protect Australian children from the dangers of the Internet. The other filter will be mandatory and will also block “unwanted content”, a category which is not yet defined for the public.
Supporters of the plan believe that the Government has an obligation to protect children. The Australian Christian Lobby, Family First Senator Steve Fielding and Independent Nick Xenophon are advocates for the filtering.
“The need to prevent access to illegal hard-core material and child pornography must be placed above the industry’s desire for unfettered access,” stated Jim Wallace, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby.
“I think we’ve got to as a society decide what is right for us and what’s not. Almost every parent in Australia is most concerned about their child and would be prepared to give up some of their rights in order to protect their children,” Mr Wallace told ABC Radio PM.
Opponents of the plan argue that protecting the public from harmful material is a social problem, not a technical problem.
“The freedom of speech implications are huge because it means that any future government can censor basically any sites, including those with differing political opinions,” said Elena Kelareva of the activist group Australians Against Internet Censorship (AAIC).
The Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) blacklist stands at 1300 websites. Most of these contain child pornography, violence, terrorist-related and other illegal content.
Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, wants to add another 10,000 to the list, including sites about euthanasia, anorexia and online gambling.
The list of banned websites will not be made publicly available.
The media has compared the censorship plan to China’s Great Firewall. At present, China, Burma, Iran and Saudi Arabia are some of the countries that have mandatory Internet censorship.
“The main similarity [with China] is that it’s a secret [blacklist] that you can’t opt out of,” said Ms Kelareva.
Countries such as the UK and Canada currently have optional filtering aimed at preventing accidental access.
The issue has inspired some Australians to join activist groups such as AAIC, which formed in November. Public demonstrations will take place on December 13 in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Hobart and Adelaide.
“Most of us do not have activist experience. We just care very strongly about this one single issue. So we decided to organise protests and just do whatever we can to stop this legislation from happening,” Ms Kelareva said.
E Companies Concerned
Experts, including Electronic Frontiers Australia, have stated that current technology is not advanced enough to accurately filter sites. Additionally, file-sharing programs will not be censored.
The filtering systems could also slow Internet speeds by an average of 30 per cent.
Internet service provider iiNet, which has volunteered to conduct the pilot run due to begin on December 24, has expressed concerns about the plan’s viability.
“iiNet has serious concerns about the usefulness of both filtering and also a trial. iiNet does not believe filtering is the solution to the Government’s objective,” as stated on the company’s website.
International lobby group Netchoice, whose membership includes eBay, AOL Time Warner and Oracle, also opposes the plan.
A number of specialists, including iiNet, say that filtering will encourage people to learn advanced technologies to bypass the system. They believe the money would be better spent on educating parents about Internet safety.
The initial setup will cost $125.8 million over four years.