Australia Delays Mandated ISP-Level Filtering for One Year

MELBOURNE—In apparent reaction to a groundswell of concern (and opposition) regarding the plan being put forth by the Australian government to mandate the filtering of objectionable content at the ISP level, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said Friday that a 12-month review of the plan would begin this year.

"There are some sections of the community that have expressed legitimate concerns that the (restricted content) category ... does not accurately reflect current community standards about what type of content should be refused," Conroy told reporters.

One member of that community is Fiona Patten, CEO of the Eros Association and convener of the Australian Sex Party, who in December of last year expressed her concerns regarding the restricted content (RC) classification.

“The biggest-selling porn movie in the world, Pirates, has been given an RC rating in Australia because it featured an animated dueling scene with two skeletons,” she said. “It had nothing to do with sex whatsoever, but under the draconian laws around X-rated films it was deemed to be ‘violence’ in an otherwise nonviolent film. Pirates sold over a quarter of a million copies in its first week on sale in 2005, and remains one of the most popular adult film requests on the internet.”

According to a press release issued in December by the Sex Party, the government RC blacklist would mean that 95 percent of the world’s 4 million adult sites would be blacklisted. “How you can have a filter blocking access to over 4 million sites with over 420 million pages and not slow the internet down is beyond belief,” said Patten, adding that the filter as it was being considered would include mostly legal depictions of sex acts rather than the child porn and sexual violence being promoted to the press.

Conroy has said the filter is intended to protect Australians, especially children, from harmful material by blocking obscene and crime-oriented websites. While such material is already banned from being posted on Australian sites, the government has no control over it being accessed via overseas servers. The filter would thus prevent citizens from accessing such content that originates in other countries.

There are currently no specifics regarding how the review will proceed, but AVN has sent an email to Patten for comment and further information regarding the planned review.

In related news, three of the countries largest ISPs—Telstra, Optus and Primus—agreed Friday to block child pornography without being mandated to do so. They also expressed their support for the review.

"We support the review that was announced today, we support and are willing to voluntarily commit to the blocking of the list of child pornography websites and we'll continue to work constructively with the government as it undertakes this review," said Telstra public policy and communications director David Quilty.

As the significance of the delay and the review sinks in, there will surely be increased calls for the plan not to be implemented at all. Indeed, such calls are already taking place.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “The recently formed Safer Internet Group argues that the federal government's proposed filter is a simplistic solution to shielding children from harmful content on the internet.”

The group has proposed a five-step plan that includes increased education, policing and research that was reiterated Thursday by the group’s representative before the joint select committee on cyber safety in Melbourne.

''Real cyber safety can only be delivered with a multi-pronged approach that privileges effective responses to online threats over gimmicks, and which promotes tools and technology that really work,” said Sue Hutley.