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Australia: Government Abandons Plans for Internet Filter
Source: abc.net.au
Source Date: Friday, November 09, 2012
Country: Australia
Created: Nov 12, 2012

The Federal Government has abandoned its controversial plan for a mandatory internet filter, five years after it was first promised.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says internet services providers (ISPs) have instead been issued with orders to block websites listed on Interpol's 'worst of' database.

"We've reached agreement with all of the telco service providers that they will block the worst of the worst - the child abuse pornography material that's available on the public internet," Senator Conroy told AM.

"Police have issued notices to a whole range of companies, and the few remaining companies that make up about 10 per cent will (soon) start receiving notices."

Under the agreement, about 1,400 offensive websites that are monitored by Interpol will be blocked.

Labor's initial plan for a compulsory filter would have had a hard time getting through Parliament, given strong opposition from the Greens and concerns within the Coalition.

But Senator Conroy insists the change in policy was prompted by the findings of a Law Reform Commission inquiry which suggested the plan was too broad.

Opposition Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says the policy backdown is confirmation the internet filter would not have worked.

"[The filter] would have been quite ineffective in the battle against child pornography because people who trade child pornography and other material of that kind do so through peer-to-peer networks, they're not posting it up on websites," Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.

"The worst thing about the idea was that it was going to censor sites... based on a list.

"The problem was the list was going to be secret," he said, likening the plan to China's internet censorship policy.

Cyber safety
The internet filter had been strongly opposed by the online community because of censorship concerns, but it had the backing of the Australian Christian Lobby.

The Lobby says the Government's move to block some sites is a welcome move, but falls well short of what Labor promised to do before the last election.

"Although child abuse material is the most heinous element of the 'refused classification' category, it is just a part of the prohibited online content the government committed to blocking at the ISP level prior to the last election," the ACL's managing director Jim Wallace said in a statement.

"Having ISPs block only illegal child abuse material does not meet the government's cyber safety election commitment to mandatory ISP filtering of 'refused classification' material."

Under the Interpol process for blocking sites, the website must be reviewed by authorities in two countries before it can be added to the list.

It can only be blocked if the children depicted on the site are less than 13 years old, or appear to be.

The Internet Industry Association, which represents some of the country's biggest telcos including Optus and Vodafone, has welcomed the Government's change of plan.

"We're pleased that the Government's moved on from the previous policy, and this is focused purely on child abuse websites and it's purely focused on the Interpol 'worst of' list, which has a fairly stringent governance process around it," Mr Lee told ABC News Online.

He says the industry had been concerned about a lack of transparency surrounding which sites would have been blocked under the plan for a mandatory internet filter.
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