Australia Internet Bans Opposed (Update)
December 10, 2008 (InfoPowa News) — The attempt by some Australian politicians to impose censorship on the Internet has run into more trouble, with growing opposition to the Rudd government's ill-starred two-tier filtering proposal and the proposal that Internet Service Providers help to trial the concept.
Live trials of the filters, intended to block "illegal" content for all Australian Internet users and "inappropriate" adult content on an opt-in basis, were slated to begin by Christmas, despite strong opposition from the Greens, the official Opposition, the Internet industry, consumers, and online rights groups. Recently, even child protection groups spoke out against the project, while activists report that thousands have signed peitions against the government moves.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that with global and local criticism rising against the Rudd governments' Internet censorship moves, the latest blow to the project is service providers refusing to participate in planned trials aimed at censoring material declared by government officials to be unsuitable.
The Herald article recaps that the ruling Labor Party in Australia has proposed installing a two-tiered Internet filtering system. One tier would be mandatory for the entire country, and block online gambling and other material declared to be unacceptable. The second level would be optional, for online customers wishing to block additional "unwanted material."
Laboratory test results released in June by the Australian Communications and Media Authority found available filters frequently let through content that should be blocked, incorrectly block harmless content, and slow network speeds by up to 87 percent.
Telstra, the country's largest Internet provider, and its competitor, Internode, have already said they would not participate in the trial of the system, while the response of smaller providers is luke warm and at best favors only a much-reduced trial. iiNet has said it would take part only to prove to the government that its plan would not work, while Optus will only test a heavily diluted filtering model.
Debate continues over how material is classified, and on the apparent dynamic of what is "inappropriate' and what is "unwanted". Critics fear that the sites found inappropriate by the government will become an ever-expanding list; already, the number of sites on Labor's list has grown from the 1,300 suggested by the ACMA to more than 10,000, and the issue could become a political football.
Critics point to the disastrous results in the United Kingdom when censorship of a Wikipedia page was attempted, and this has motivated increased opposition to the government's plan, with the Greens calling for the abandonment of the filtering plan, saying it was " … hopelessly flawed and a certain failure."
Colin Jacobs, vice-chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia, said that the unintended results would be the same as the failed UIGEA ban in the U.S. "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."
Australia's Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has reportedly written to critics saying that the "live" [filtering] trials would be " … a closed network test and will not involve actual customers". Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam responded to the report, saying this was a sign the government was slowly backing away from the heavily criticized policy.
Proposed Australian laws on Internet censorship are sometimes pejoratively referred to as the Great Australian Firewall, Firewall Australia, or Great Firewall Reef (a reference to Great Barrier Reef and the Great Firewall of China).