Australia's Conroy Backing Off Filtering Plan

SYDNEY, Australia - Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is backing away from plans for the "Great Aussie Firewall."

The proposal, which includes a compulsory Internet Filter based on a government blacklist of websites, has met with resistance from public and private sectors. Aussie free-speech and Internet rights groups oppose the plan, as have many major Internet Service Providers, which would have to implement filter use.

Conroy admitted on the Australian TV program "Insight" that the filter scheme still needs work. A soc-alled "blacklist" of offensive websites was recently published online by sites such as Wikileaks.

"Refused classification is the mandatory aspect, and then parents -- if the technology allows, if we can work our way through the technical issues -- would be given a range of options of other material that they can choose to block for their children," Conroy said.

The blacklist included an astrology website and a photographer whose work is PG-13 at worst.

"What I am looking at, at the moment, is a system whereby the Classification Board can have a role in making that final determination," he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Many opponents are concerned that bringing a censorship body will make things worse, landing sites on the blacklist without proper investigation.

Internode network engineer Mark Newton told the newspaper the blacklist guidelines are "too broad" and called Conroy's apparent new position "collateral damage" and "the great walkback of 2009".

The Aussie official also found himself in hot water when he commented on an upcoming October court case involving iiNet, the ISP that had publicly attacked his filtering plan.

Film and television rights holders are suing iiNET for enabling customers to download copyrighted material.  The company recently pulled out of a trial testing Conroy's proposed filter, saying it "could not work," calling it "fundamentally flawed, a waste of taxpayers' money."

The ISP's CEO Michael Malone told ITWire and other media that Conroy is Australia's worst Communications Minister, labeling the politician "incompetent."

Speaking this week before key Australian industry figures at the CommsDay Summit 2009, a telecommunications conference, Conroy said iiNet's defense in its lawsuit case belonged in an episode of the Aussie TV comedy "Yes Minister."

The sarcastic statement drew a sharp reaction from iiNet lawyer Herbert Greer as an improper, prejudicial comment likely to affect the upcoming trial.

Some called the barbs Conroy's "revenge" for iiNet withdrawing from the filter trial, while Aussie blogs are wondering if the ISP has a valid case of defamation on its hands and also, if Conroy could be cited for contempt of court.