Is Conroy Playing Fast and Loose With the Aussie ISP Filter?

SYDNEY—Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has created more than a little confusion (and consternation) Down Under with his recent decision to postpone the rollout of the government’s controversial plan to censor the internet at the ISP level. A Conroy spokesperson relayed to the media in late April the minister’s intention to delay the introduction of the filtering legislation until sometime after the May and June sittings of parliament.

With the government not scheduled to meet again until the last week in August, that decision means that filtering will probably not be implemented until after the October federal elections.

According to The Australian, “Labor promised before the last election it would force internet service providers to block access to illegal content such as child pornography and X-rated images.”

Conroy is under extreme pressure from governments (including the U.S. government), industry (including Google) and free speech advocates not to deploy a filtering regime that continues to spark intense debate around the world and certain within Australia. However, private polling by the Labor Party has apparently yielded consistent support for the plan among “a large number of computer-illiterate mums and dads are worried about what their kids can access online,” according to Ross Fitzgerald, who added, “This is the reason he has continued to withstand so much virulent criticism from those who do not live in a nuclear family and who do not feel threatened by the internet.”

But conflicting statements from a different Conroy spokesperson to the effect that the government remains committed to implementing the filters before the next election has left the entire country in a state of confusion about what exactly the government’s plan of action will be.

According to Fitzgerald, who remains convinced that internet censorship remains an aspiration of the current administration, sowing the seeds of confusion as to the date of the rollout are consistent with Conroy’s equally conflicting remarks regarding what kinds of material will be filtered.

Currently, there seem to be two different lists of blacklisted websites, employing two different sets of criteria that are maintained by the government. One stipulates that only material refused classification will be filtered. The other includes X18+ content, R18+ content that does not have a restricted access system and content that is even classified MA15+ and provided by a mobile premium service.

Refused Content categories:

* Depict, express or otherwise deals 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.

* Depict in a way that is likely to cause offense to a reasonable adult a minor who is, or who appears to be, under 16 (whether or not engaged in sexual activity).

* Promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence.

The two quite dissimilar lists will, according to Conroy, exist alongside one another; a situation Fitzgerald says supports his contention that “a post-election internet filter will be more censorious than the proposed pre-election one.”

Despite the mixed messages, Fitzgerald says the government’s apparent retreat from pushing the filters through before the election will not succeed in throwing opponents of the plan off their game.

“Conroy may think he has won the battle,” he said, “but this war is far from over.”