Government Filtering Plans Under Attack

Government Filtering Plans Under Attack

By Greg McNevin

November 13, 2008: The Rudd Government’s stubborn refusal to abandon mandatory ISP-level internet filtering has come under further industry attack, with ISPs raising their voices in discontent and heavily criticising Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

The disastrous plan to deploy a $189 million, two-tier content filtering system has already raised the ire of consumers, industry groups and civil rights organisations, and with ISPs joining the widespread outcry over the plan which has been described as not only “ridiculous”, as iiNet executive Michael Malone put it to The Age, but also unworkable and ineffective.

First unveiled in 2007, the filtering initiative was presented as an opt-in system that would see “illegal” content (as designated by a Government blacklist of sites) blocked by ISPs. Back then some commentators were already calling it an ineffective solution, however, the Government forged ahead and significantly altered the scheme turning it into a mandatory, nation-wide filter that can not be opted-out of, and which will include an additional, opt-in filtering tier for a “child friendly” internet.

While what will and what will not be blocked has not been revealed, however, hardcore porn and online gambling have already been brought up as possibilities in addition to material currently on the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) black list.

The Government has now called for expressions of interest from ISPs to participate trials of the filtering system, an offer Malone said he would be taking up, if only to highlight the pointlessness of the system with hard data.

“They're not listening to the experts, they're not listening to the industry, they're not listening to consumers, so perhaps some hard numbers will actually help,” said Malone.

Malone adds that filtering systems like the one being pushed by the Government are already in place in countries such as China and Saudi Arabia – not an association Conroy wants to linger on – and aside from the filters being easily bypassed, they will not stop peer-to-peer traffic, and will significantly impact network speeds.

If implemented, a performance drop of two to 87 percent has been estimated by the ACMA. This would be such a blow to Australia’s already lagging network that one has to wonder how the Government could possibly be even entertaining the thought.

And considering the Government has already commissioned three separate studies that found ISP-level filtering to be more expensive and less effective than other alternatives, the fact that it is still forging ahead with an unwanted, ineffective, anti-business system is even more perplexing.

Malone has dubbed Conroy “the worst Communications Minister we've had in […] 15 years”, a title which could be fitting if Conroy is determined to push ahead with the system despite formidable and rational arguments against it.

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