Conroy gets easy out on filter

Summary:The Australian Law Reform Commission's (ALRC) suggestion of only filtering sub-categories of content classified as "prohibited" gives Communications Minister Stephen Conroy a nice out for his controversial policy.

The Australian Law Reform Commission's (ALRC) suggestion of only filtering sub-categories of content classified as "prohibited" gives Communications Minister Stephen Conroy a nice out for his controversial policy.

The ALRC yesterday released its lengthy review into the classification system, bringing attention back to the Labor government's controversial mandatory internet filter for all "refused classification" (RC) content.

Conroy delayed the implementation of his government's policy to force internet service providers (ISPs) to filter out certain blacklisted URLs until the review of refused classification (the type of content that would be on the blacklist) could be completed.

The review said that RC should be renamed as "prohibited" content, and that the scope of this classification should potentially be narrowed to exclude certain types of crime and sexual fetishes.

The ALRC also recommended that should an internet filter be brought in, given the mass amounts of content available online it may be more prudent for the government to only block a sub-category of prohibited content, like child-abuse material.

This one suggestion gives Conroy a free ticket to implement a filter, but one that's no different to the Interpol filter currently in place with Telstra and Optus. These companies voluntarily began blocking sites on Interpol's blacklist of the "worst of the worst" child-abuse material online.

Although there was a bit of controversy when the filters were implemented, they went largely unnoticed, even though Telstra blocked 84,000 attempts to visit these websites in just three months.

It wouldn't be too difficult for Conroy to use the ALRC's findings and evidence of the success of the voluntary filter to bring about milder legislation, forcing reluctant ISPs — like iiNet and Internode — to filter an Interpol-like blacklist administered by the new regulator suggested in the report.

The government was really too brash when it first announced its filter policy in 2009, and, after the public outcry, the government has been slowly backing away ever since. Although Conroy has remained committed to implementing the filter, he's had a bit of a breather since the launch of the review, but it's now back in his hands.

The signs are there that this may be his plan, too. Earlier this week, when asked about the government's internet-filter policy, Conroy pointed to the success of the voluntary filter, and how it has had no impact on internet services.

So I won't be surprised if we soon see a much more watered-down plan brought in based on these recommendations, but, given the opposition by the Coalition and the Greens to the original legislation, if they remain opposed to the new version of the legislation, the government will need to rely on the support of independent MPs in order to secure passage through the lower house, and it would be unlikely to pass the upper house if the Coalition and the Greens vote against it.

Updated at 2:29pm, 2 March 2012: Removed Primus from filter list.

Topics: Censorship, Government : AU, Telcos

About

Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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