The Filter Is Dead: Australian Government Dumps Controversial Filtering Project

Almost three years ago now, Senator Stephen Conroy stepped up to the plate to deliver a bold new vision. A vision of a filtered, "safer" internet. The plan was met by hostility from internet rights activists, poiticians, internet users, internet service providers and interest groups alike. Tonight, however, the Labor government's proposed mandatory internet filter is dead.

From the get-go, we made our feelings known about the government's plan to filter the internet, and neither was the broader population of Australia's internet users.

The original filter proposition, aired in a 2007 paper on how Labor would ensure the safety of kids online, would have seen the government impose a mandatory "clean feed" on Austraian internet users:

Way back when Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister, this was the plan:

A Rudd Labor Government will require ISPs to offer a ‘clean feed’ internet service to all homes, schools and public internet points accessible by children, such as public libraries. Labor’s ISP policy will prevent Australian children from accessing any content that has been identified as prohibited by ACMA, including sites such as those containing child pornography and X-rated material. Labor will also ensure that the ACMA black list is more comprehensive. It will do so, for example, by liaising with international agencies such as Interpol, Europol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and ISPs to ensure that adequate online protection is provided to Australian children and families.

That ACMA blacklist turned out to contain some of the worst of the worst sites on the internet, including but not restricted to child pornography sites and other high-impact content. The list was leaked in 2009, although the government never admitted that it was the actual list. The most concerning thing about the leaked list was the presence of several sites not pertaining to high-impact content that would offend children. A dentist website, for example, was one of the results. That gave way to suspicions that the blacklist wasn't entirely unfallible.

Add to that the fact that the content set to be filtered was constantly under debate. Would the filter block gambling sites? BDSM or bondage material or so-called "golden showers" as Senator Conroy himself discussed during the filter back-and-forth? We'll never really know for sure.

Never missing a chance to leap on a popular issue, the Federal Opposition said that they would oppose the filter and everything that it stood for. High-profile members of the IT and business community came out to oppose the filter. In August 2010, Conroy admitted to ARN that the filter would likely never make it through the parliament.

All had been quiet on the filter front for a few months, as Conroy continued to promise "surprises" when it came to the clean feed proposal.

As Conroy and the government quietly worked away on a carefully calculated retreat plan, three internet service providers were working to implement a filter of their own. The ISPs, including Optus and Telstra, worked to deploy a filter that would block the Interpol blacklist — a list containing the very worst and most objectionable material ever to hit the internet.

And yet as the deployment of the Interpol filter came and went, nobody made a sound, nor a protest, nor an angry letter. Nobody cared that child porn was going to be blocked, people cared when they thought it might be more.

Snap back to present day, and Conroy's office has just issued a statement saying that it will walk away from mandatory internet filtering, and instead urge ISPs to implement the same Interpol filter that ISPs like Telstra and Optus are already running. The statement isn't live online just yet, but according to the outlets Conroy gave it to ahead of time, the new filtering regime will cover 90 per cent of the population, based on the ISPs that have already agreed to come on board with the plan.

The government isn't giving ISPs a choice, either. It's using a section of the Telecommunications Act to compel ISPs to comply with the Interpol blacklist. According to ZDNet, iiNet is one of the ISPs that is already on board.

So that's it. Australia's mandatory internet filter is finally — as the Coalition put it — dead, buried and cremated. [ZDNet]

Originally published on Gizmodo Australia


Comments

    I'm seriously confused...
    "The government isn’t giving ISPs a choice, either. It’s using a section of the Telecommunications Act to compel ISPs to comply with the Interpol blacklist." -- doesn't this mean we lost? I'm more or less seeing this as the definition of "mandatory internet filter"... no?

      It's pretty well timed. The technical community will be too busy cheering about the original filter being defeated, so the fact they'll start make the Interpol filter mandatory will get much less attention than it should.

      So we lost, but they're trying damn hard to make us feel like we've won. It's much harder to argue against the Interpol filter without being told you support child porn.

    I think Labours idea was to combine a bunch of lists, but also add rules to the filter. So nobody liked the filter because the rules banned sites that don't need to be.

    There is a huge difference between this Interpol child pornography filter and the original.

    From my understanding the original proposal was to have a federal government bureaucracy review and rate every website that it received a complaint on and apply our current TV and film ratings standards from Australian Classification Board to the internet. Anything reviewed and refused classification would be blacklisted. Which up until recently included R rated video games but mostly the filter would have blocked a huge number pornography sites. Sites whose videos would be refused classification and banned under Australian censorship laws if they sold on physical media such as DVD/Blu-Rays.

    In the late 1990's the Howard Coalition government tried to wipe out X rated films to appease pro-Christian lobby groups. They also tried to ban R rated films from being shown on cable-TV. The legislation didn't pass but they did introduce some major restrictions to the X film classification including the banning of all fetishes and any form of sexualised violence. Many films that were legal here in the 1990s and are perfectly legal in the USA and Europe, have since the year 2000 been illegal to sell or screen in Australia.

    I imagine links to sites selling RC material would have also been blocked under the original filter. Say the specific pages on Amazon that list and sell copies of unrated, uncut editions of various blacklisted films. Senator Conroy is a legacy of the proud neo- socialistist Rudd government. They thought the government knew what was best, and could introduce bureaucracy to keep every citizen safe and inline with mainstream Australian values. Thank goodness that didn't last long!

      +1
      the original filter was going to be riddled with beaureucracy and the morons working in the public service sector in canberra. The interpol blacklist is an active list targeting and working against child pronography, molestation, and sex trafficking. They don't go out and rate/classify all websites, instead they add stuff to the list after its been discovered during investigations into highly illegal international activities.

      Right. I can understand that... But if the government is legally enforcing ISP's to block a "list" ... how is this any different to the original plan?
      Ok, obviously it is now limited exclusively to what interpol put on the list; but what stops the Australian Government from distributing their own list as per the original plan without telling anyone? (though if they do tell people... what can we do?) I'm assuming the interpol list will be private and not public (isn't this more or less what the original trials were?)
      A private list mandated by the government that we're told is the interpol list worries me. I also imagine some countries (*cough couch America*) could influence the list if they deemed it useful (blocking sites like wikileaks or Kim Dotcoms new site).

      Maybe I'm wearing a tin-foil hat. But risk of government abuse was the reason we as a tech community opposed this in the first place... and this seems ripe for abuse.

    Don't forget that Conroy does still have plans to compel ISPs to keep logs of everything you do online for several years.

    Yes, and how much did this white elephant cost the taxpayer?

    I don't understand this either. One of the argument against the original filter was that it would be too broad and the new filter seems to be better in that regard. The other argument was that filtering all traffic would noticeably degrade internet performance and I'm not sure why the new filter is any different in that regard. It would be nice to see Lifehacker explore exactly why the new filter is better than the old filter instead of just declaring "THE FILTER IS DEAD, long live the filter."

    While such prohibition can never be effective, I do believe that parents should seriously consider using technology to keep theuir kids safe from online dangers. For example, at home, I've installed a free app called Qustodio to monitor who my girl talks to on facebook as the app allows me to watch the profile pictures of accounts she interacts with. My way of ensuring that she stays safe. In my small office, I use it on about 5 computers to watch what employees are downloading, watching, or how much time are they spending on the web. Nice little app. Just Google for it.

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