Australian ISP filtering plan

While checking up on the Australian news, I came across this story on the SMH on the new federal government’s plan to introduce an opt-in scheme for people to access “adult” websites. The plan is that the default would be that people are prevented from accessing p0rnographic material or child-unfriendly material (via a list of websites drawn up by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)) and that a person wishing to access any website on the list would have the inform their ISP.

Before discussing the merits of the scheme, the story quotes the Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, as follows:

“Labor makes no apologies to those who argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road,” Mr Conroy said yesterday. “If people equate freedom of speech with watching child p0rnography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree.”

I havn’t heard anyone equate freedom of speech with watching child p0rnography before now. Certainly it’s a very poor defence for their policy. (I redefine freedom of speech to be X which no-one can disagree with, and thus our policy follows.) But enough semantics.

One has to wonder why an opt-out scheme as opposed to opt-in scheme wasn’t proposed? It surely would be easy for all people in charge of internet connections that children could have access to to opt-into any such scheme. More substantially, it’s a bit unsettling that a state institution is supposed to draw up a list of undesireable websites as this gives this government body substantial power. How is this body going to draw up this list? What are the guidelines and whom is going to decide what the guidelines are? What are the avenues for appealling the addition of a website to the list or the non-removal of a website from the list? How often is the ACMA going to check whether a website should still be on the list? How are they going to deal with the situation that websites can be easily replicated under different names?

Will the bans be off late at night when children are supposed to be asleep in bed? (At these times, what is effectively soft p0rn appears on tv quite openly regardless of what is available on the internet.)

I don’t know the details of the policy or the answers to these questions – they are just questions that come to mind.

A Facebook group, Australian ISP filtering plan is stupid!, has been set up and I’ve joined it. Now I don’t know if the plan actually is stupid, but it certainly pushes some buttons that make me feel quite uncertain about it.

PS: I think that kids shouldn’t look at internet p0rn!

4 Responses to Australian ISP filtering plan

  1. Sam Clifford says:

    The government’s plan is unworkable and will lead to higher internet costs as the ISPs pass the costs of compliance on to their customers. Not only is it an expensive plan but it violates the spirit of openness upon which the internet was founded. Let the government provide internet filtering software to families who wish to block adult material rather than crippling the Australian wing of the internet with oppressive content management systems.

    Way to stifle the productivity of .au, Kevin.

  2. Sacha says:

    Hi Sam,

    I agree with you that it would be much better to have an opt-in system.

  3. Sam Clifford says:

    Sacha, I just sent a letter to Senator Conroy alerting him to the fact that his proposed system will not work.

    Lawrence Lessig does a better job than I of explaining an alternative; I’ve included an excerpt from his book, “Code v2.0”.

  4. […] government internet censorship policy Like many people, I’ve been astonished at the federal government’s policy to censor the internet ostensibly on the basis of preventing the accessibility of child p_rn. I can only think that this […]

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