Australia censored

By Rebecca Stewart

The Australian Federal Government is going ahead with a plan to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to regulate what content Australian citizens can access on the internet. The only other country to have something similar introduced is China.

The government has declared that it won’t let anyone opt out of the proposed national internet filter.

The plan was first introduced as a way of combating online access to child pornography and adult content. The filter could be expanded to include denying access to controversial websites on euthanasia and pro eating disorder websites.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy said “we are talking about mandatory blocking, where possible, of illegal material.”

The Australian Government already has legislation in place to regulate online content hosted in Australia. It is the Commonwealth Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Act 1999 and applies to Internet Content Hosts (ISCs) and ISPs. Each state and territory also has criminal laws which apply to content providers and creators, and general internet users. This legislation came into force on 1 January 2000.

As the Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) website explains, “The law requires Australian ISPs and ICHs to delete content from their servers (Web, Usenet, FTP, etc.) that is deemed ‘objectionable’ or ‘unsuitable for minors’ on receipt of a take-down notice from the government regulator, the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA).”

“ISP filtering reduces the risk of Australians being inadvertently exposed to Refused Classification (RC) -rated material when online,” Senator Conroy said.

“The report into the pilot trial of ISP-level filtering demonstrates that blocked RC-rated material can be done with 100 per cent accuracy and negligible impact on speed.”

The Refused Classification Content list will be compiled through a public complaints mechanism.

In 2002, EFA undertook extensive research into statutes and laws regulating internet usage outside Australia and failed to find indication that any country comparable to Australia had or intended to introduce internet censorship laws as restrictive as Australia now has in place.

In an August 2002 press release, then Minister of Communications Richard Alston claimed the internet had been made safer as a result of the Government’s internet censorship regime. Electronic Frontiers Australia responded saying there was no evidence to support the claim, that “in fact all indications are to the contrary.”

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 was also amended to prevent public scrutiny and possible criticism of the administration of the internet censorship regime.

The filter has been denounced as an expensive and ineffective waste of Government resources by the general public as well as industry groups, technical experts and civil libertarians.

While there has been mostly outcry and outrage over the proposed filter, the Australian Christian Lobby has welcomed the Government’s proposal.

“The need to prevent access to illegal hardcore material and child pornography must be placed about the industry’s desire for unfettered access,” Managing director Jim Wallace said.

The Government is planning to put the filter in place in 2011.

More information

Hey Rudd and Conroy: Its my internet, and I’ll do what I want to Michael Harris discusses what this means for the general Australian public

No Clean Feed

Internet censorship in Australia

Stephen Conroy's media release