Aussie Net Filtering Plans Challenged

    January 2, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

An advocacy group claimed Australia’s mandate for ISPs to block pornographic and violent websites could slow down Internet access in the country.

The Australian government wrapped up 2007 by announcing plans to protect children from inappropriate content on the Internet. Their initiative would require individuals to contact an ISP and opt-out of the filtering to have completely open access.

One group cited by Australian IT said the filtering scheme would hurt everybody surfing online. The Internet Industry Association believes it will slow down Net access across the board.

That result runs counter to a platform of the ruling Labor Party, which promised to speed up Net access during its election campaign.

However, the filtering plan appears to involve blacklisting millions of websites. A web browser hitting a blacklisted site should immediately hit a message saying the site is unavailable, as is common in nations that practice censorship.

Search engine speed, where the advocacy group said slowdowns would occur, may not be a problem. After all, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, operators of three major search sites, have been able to comply with China’s blanket censorship requirements.

Australia’s demands won’t be as broad as China’s, which should make compliance easier for search engines, if they are brought into the filtering equation at some point.

David Lem, a Microsoft developer from Australia, cited a paper from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society in considering the concept of Net filtering. John Palfrey’s "Reluctant Gatekeepers: Corporate Ethics on a Filtered Internet" discussed the need for "private actors" to take a role in the filtering process:

In almost every case, states have to rely upon private actors to carry out most of the censorship and surveillance. The means by which states call upon private actors, and for what purpose, vary from state to state. But the trend points toward greater expectations placed by states on private actors to help get the online censorship and surveillance job done.

To sell citizens on this filtering, Australia has to sell the public on trusting those who will make the filtering decisions.