Aussie ISP Quits Filter Trials

SYDNEY, Australia - Australia's third-largest Internet service provider has pulled out of a trial run for the government's "great Aussie firewall" plan.

ISP iiNet called the campaign initiated by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy "no longer just about stopping child porn."

"We are not able to reconcile participation in the trial with our corporate social responsibility, our customer service objectives and our public position on censorship," iiNet Managing Director Michael Malone said in a statement.

iiNet called the scheme to filter out "unwanted material" ambiguous.

"It became increasingly clear that the trial was not simply about restricting child pornography or other such illegal material, but a much wider range of issues, including what the government simply describes as 'unwanted material' without an explanation of what that includes," the company said in a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Opposition party Senator Nick Minchin, a steadfast critic of the firewall and filtering plans, said iiNET's pull-out "casts further doubt over the veracity and credibility of these trials and raises more questions about the Rudd Government's unpopular mandatory filtering policy."

"While the government has selected six ISPs to take part in the first stage of the trial, I am advised that none of them, other than Webshield, which already offers its customers an ISP-level filtering option, are in a position to even yet start," Minchin said.

The Aussie politician wondered if Conroy's proposal is "even technically feasible" and noted that initially, the country's largest ISPs weren't even taking part in the trials.

"Without the involvement of the nation's three largest ISPs, it is difficult to see how any meaningful results will be produced," Minchin said.

Earlier this year, the Aussie government bypassed ISPs Optus and iiNet for the first round of live trials, only going with smaller companies. One of those ISPs, Primus, compared mandatory filtering to China's current ongoing Web purge.

"Everyone is repulsed by, and opposed to, child pornography, but this trial and policy is not the solution or even about that," said iiNET's Malone. "In reality, the vast majority of online child pornography activity does not appear on public websites but is distributed over peer-to-peer networks, which are not and cannot be captured by this trial or policy."

The Web filter is based on blacklist compiled by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Last week, Wikileaks published what it claimed was the ACMA list, or a version of it, though Conroy denied it was the real thing, only admitting both lists shared "some common URLs."

That list included straight and gay adult porn sites, YouTube links, online poker sites, various Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites and even the websites of a Queensland dentist, a school consulting firm and an animal career site.

Many outraged individual Australian citizens include 78-year-old grandmother and retired nurse educator Betty Peters, from Melbourne, a euthanasia advocate. Peter's videos found on YouTube were included on the blacklist.

"We do not need a 40-year-old senator like Stephen Conroy deciding for us what is good and bad," she told Australia. "I am appalled that our free country has come to this."

Opposition Senator Minchin called the fallout a "damning indictment of the incompetence of Senator Conroy and the government in their approach to this whole, very unpopular policy of compulsory mandated Internet filtering."

Sydney Associate Professor Bjorn Landfeldt has commented the compiling of banned sites "could be interpreted by some as a government-sanctioned hate list."

Meanwhile, whistleblower Wikileaks, which the government threatened to fine, is unavailable. A main page says it's become "overloaded by global Interest." The non-profit site asks for donations and directs surfers to The National Gadfly, which champions its cause.