Home > Austrialia, censorship, internet > Australia kicks off government web censorship with voluntary live trial

Australia kicks off government web censorship with voluntary live trial

I’ve already blogged on Australia’s plan to force internet service providers to implement filters that are intended to block access to internet sites that are on a secret list maintained by the government (and that internet providers may not disclose); the New York Times reports that the government has “invited Internet service providers and mobile phone operators to participate in a live trial of the program, which is set to begin this year.”

According to the NYT, the system will consist of mandatory blocks that will slow internet access for all users, and an optional additional filter that individuals could request.  Civil rights and users groups have expressed concerns about the possibility of further political pressures to expand censorship via the secret list, the likelihood that the filters will do little to stop the use of the internet for “illegal” purposes (apparently child pornography is the main target, while inconveniencing all users by slowing access.  According to the NYT:

The proposed system consists of two tiers. Under the first, all Australian service providers must block access to around 10,000 Web sites on a list maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the federal monitor that oversees film classifications.

The second tier would require service providers to provide an optional filter that individuals could use to block material deemed unsuitable for children, like pornography or violence.

The government says the list, which is not available to the public, includes only illegal content, mostly child pornography. But critics worry about the lack of transparency and say the filter could be used to block a range of morally hazy topics, like gambling or euthanasia.

“Even if the scheme is introduced with the best of intentions, there will be enormous political pressure on the government to expand the list,” said Colin Jacobs, the vice chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia, a technology advocacy group.  …

“Our view is there are some serious shortfalls in what is being proposed,” said Mark White, the chief operating officer at iiNet, Australia’s third-largest service provider, which has applied to take part in the trial.

Mr. White said the mandatory filter was unlikely to work because it would not monitor illegal activity on peer-to-peer or file-sharing networks, where most child pornography and other illegal content is exchanged. The filter would also slow Internet browsing speeds for all regardless of whether they were trying to access forbidden sites, he said.

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