Get an overview of the scheme by checking out EFA's Filtering Fact Sheets.
Minister Conroy has announced that he will introduce “mandatory ISP-level filtering of Refused Classification (RC) –rated content.”1
The proposed filter will only filter unencrypted web (HTTP) traffic. Not only will it be trivial to circumvent by those who want to, but it will not be able to stop the distribution of illegal child sexual abuse material on encrypted peer-to-peer networks, where the greatest majority such material is traded.
In order to address concerns about the sexual exploitation of children, greater investment is required in police investigations who are able to infiltrate the secretive groups where this child sexual abuse material is distributed and charge those who are creating and sharing this material.
The list of URLs that will be filtered is only a tiny fraction of the material on the internet that may be considered harmful to children. A mandatory filter cannot address the bulk of inappropriate content, and the government is not in a position to determine what each parent believes to be suitable or not for their individual children.
The biggest risks that children face online are not the risk of exposure to inappropriate content, but the risk of inappropriate contact with others. In order to protect children online, we propose the following measures:
Only 18% of the URLs on the current blacklist contain child sexual abuse material (212 of the 1,175 URLs). The rest of the material is X18+ content (41%), R18+ content (5%), and 'other' (a whopping 36%). See libertus.net's breakdown for more information.
The National Classification Code defines what material is to be Refused Classification in Australia. The code states that the Classification Board must refuse to classify films, publications, and computer games that:
(a) describe, depict, express or otherwise deal
with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction,
crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or
abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they
offend against the standards of morality,
decency and propriety generally accepted by
reasonable adults to the extent that they
should not be classified; or
(b) describe or depict in a way that is likely to
cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person
who is, or appears to be, a child under 18
(whether the person is engaged in sexual
activity or not); or
(c) promote, incite or instruct in matters of
crime or violence
The code additionally states that all computer games that are unsuitable for a minor to see or to play are to be refused classification.
The only material that is illegal to possess in Australia is child sexual abuse material. In all states and territories except for Western Australia and certain prescribed areas of the Northern Territory, it is legal for adults to view and own material that has been refused classification. Australia's classification regime has always been about empowering adults to make appropriate choices and restricting only the public sale and demonstration of RC material. The filter, however, will attempt to prevent all Australians from accessing, rather than selling, prohibited material.
The list of material that will be banned under a mandatory filter is much broader than illegal child sexual abuse material. Based on previous decisions of the Classification Board, it includes:
Items that have been banned because they 'promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence' include things such as:
The clean-feed, if attempted, will be a technical disaster. The Internet does not work in a manner that would let a filter be effective, and the World Wide Web contains far more content than could ever be effectively rated by a Government organisation. The host of technical hurdles include:
In short, as the best experts in the country unanimously agree, Conroy's plan does not make sense technically.8
Although the initiative is intended and marketed as a tool to help protect children from the dangers of the Internet, this paternalistic scheme raises some troubling issues that affect all Australians. As a source of daily information, the Internet increases in importance every day. Do we really want the Government of the day deciding what Australian adults can and can't see? Do we want Australia to join a censorship club in which Burma, China and North Korea are the founding members?
In short, even if it worked the filter would be terrible policy. By censoring the entire country's Internet access down to the level of a child of indeterminate age, it robs Australian adults of ability to make their own decisions about what content they view.
In the News
Analysis of the policy