The Great Firewall of Australia

The Great Firewall of Australia

An in-depth look at the government’s controversial proposal for mandatory ISP-level content filtering

Over the Christmas holiday period, Australian ISPs are being invited to participate in a live trial of the Rudd government’s clean feed Internet scheme. As part of its $125.8 million cyber safety plan, the Federal government will impose mandatory ISP-level Internet content filtering nationwide.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will administer two website blacklists: A mandatory list of yet-to-be-defined “illegal” content, and a second opt-out list comprised of “inappropriate” material. Every household, business and school in the country will receive an Internet feed censored of content on both blacklists unless they opt out of the “inappropriate” filter.

According to Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, mandatory filtering will provide protection for children from Internet websites containing harmful content.

“The Internet has exposed [children] to continually emerging and evolving dangers that did not previously exist. While there may be technical and cost hurdles [for content filtering], the message from other countries is that these can be overcome,” he said.

But Conroy’s proposal to clean up the Internet has triggered a rash of criticism from industry experts and privacy groups, who claim the filtering is technically inept and Orwellian in its approach.

Technical feasibility

Critics of mandatory ISP-level filtering have questioned the technical and economic feasibility of the scheme, warning it will inflate access costs and affect Internet performance.

In April, filtering was controversially deployed across houses of parliament. Democrat leader, Lyn Allison, labelled the filters ineffective and unnecessary after they prevented her researching issues that form part of her portfolio including illicit drugs, sexual and reproductive health and illegal weapons.

In August, the Government released a glowing ACMA report on filtering trials tested on an isolated Telstra network, claiming the technology had undergone massive improvements since the dismal outcome of an abandoned 2005 trial. However, chair of Electronic Frontiers Association, Dale Clapperton, viewed the results as far from successful.

“These filters will wrongly block access to about 3 per cent of the Internet if they are forced on Australians, and while the Minister may regard this as an acceptable level of collateral damage, we do not,” he said.

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