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Opposition to Australian Internet Censorship

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
December 11, 2008

                The move by a group of Australian politicians to censor internet content, including online casinos, was not well received this week. Government officials had requested that a two-tier filtering system be implemented by Internet Service Providers during a trial period, to determine whether Internet censorship would be beneficial.

                The trial period was scheduled to begin sometime before Christmas of this year, in which the filters would block internet users from accessing “illegal” content, and “inappropriate” adult content as an optional feature.

                However, the move has met many criticisms, with opposition coming from the Greens, the official Opposition, the internet industry, consumers and net neutrality groups – thousands of activists have signed petitions against the move. Most shocking is that recently, child protection groups began to speak out against the censorship.

                According to the Sydney Morning Herald, among other criticism in response to the Rudd government’s attempts, the Internet Service Providers have outright refused to enforce the censorship of online content during the trial period.

                The article in the Herald states the two-tiered filtering system would require one tier to ban content such as internet casino gambling and other material labeled as “unacceptable,” while the other would be optional – allowing internet users to filter any additional “unwanted material” such as adult websites.

                The filtering system has not proven to be as effective as all of that, however, as in June, laboratory results showed that some filters frequently allowed unacceptable content which blocking appropriate content and slowing network speeds by up to 87 percent.

                Australia’s most widely used ISP, Telstra, has already announced that they would have no part in the trial. Some smaller ISP’s agreed to a smaller trial period, but have not shown the enthusiasm that the government would like. iiNet agreed to run the trial period only to illustrate that the filtering system would be ineffective and Optus has said it will only test a “heavily diluted” filtering model.

                Others question what is considered “inappropriate,” “illegal,” and what would be filtered as “unwanted.” As internet censorship is a sensitive subject, some criticize the government for having too broad of a list of what content falls under these categories, having risen from 1,300 to over 10,000.

                Critics are calling for the trial period to be abandoned, saying that it was “…hopelessly flawed and a certain failure.”

                Vice Chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia, Colin Jacobs, compared this project to the failed attempts to ban online casino gambling in the U.S. with the UIGEA. “Given that the traffickers of genuine abuse material will not let themselves be slowed down by a filter and are already covering their tracks, the net result that will be achieved here is exactly this: inconvenience, chaos and expense with absolutely no dividend.”

                Stephen Conroy, Communications Minister to Australia has responded to critics claiming that the filtering trials would be “…a closed network test and will not involve actual customers.”

                Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said that he feels this indicated a possibility that the government may be reconsidering the filtering system, as heavily criticized as it is. Australian proposals in favor of internet censorship are often referred to as the “Great Australian Firewall,” “Firewall Australia,” or “Great Firewall Reef.”