ISPs: Govt porn filters 'could cripple internet'

Summary:Broadband providers Internode and iiNet have hit out against the Federal government's ISP-level content filtering initiative — a scheme that could cripple Australia's high-speed internet access, according to one exec.

Broadband providers Internode and iiNet have hit out against the Federal government's ISP-level content filtering initiative — a scheme that could cripple Australia's high-speed internet access, according to one exec.

Mandatory filtering, one of Kevin Rudd's election promises, is set to move the emphasis from parents onto ISPs to remove "inappropriate content" from Australians' internet experience with potential software filters currently being trialled by ACMA.

The regulator is expected to file its report on the filter tests with Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy by the end of this month, after the Federal government pledged a one-off AU$125.8 million subsidy for ISPs to install the required equipment as part of this year's budget.

The plan has already attracted its critics. Security experts recently called government filters to block malware — rather than the "inappropriate content" currently targeted — a suggestion backed by ISP Internode.

"Mandating [ISP-level malware filtering] would actually add value," said John Lindsay, Internode carrier relations manager. "But it wouldn't be able to deliver on the government's desire to stamp down on dissent or keep us in a high state of panic about certain things."

"We support the government's desire to keep kids safe on the internet and certainly from any type of exploitation, but we don't support the government crippling high-speed broadband services which they say are so essential to the development of our economy," he told ZDNet.com.au.

Lindsay said Internode would not be doing "any serious planning" until the government decides exactly what its filtering initiative is going to look like. While the ISP plans to comply with future government requirements, the Internode executive said he was "intrigued the government seems so confident that users will be happy to have their access slowed down to allow for filtering they don't want".

"Some of the things the government could mandate are simply not technically feasible, some could be highly disruptive to users, some could be simply ineffective at blocking access to certain content," he said. "What you end up with is everybody being dissatisfied with the filter."

Stephen Dalby, chief regulatory officer with iiNet, believes the government's push to provide ISP-level filtering represents a knee-jerk response to a far more complex issue.

"This whole notion of taking a technological solution to what is otherwise a social issue really has some problems... Our only concern is that the government may push this through, raise their hands and say 'right, we've done something about it'," he said. "Let's hope there's some sincerity in looking at fixing the community problems associated with this more intently."

Like Internode, iiNet intends to comply with future legislative requirements, but already provides a level of filtering consistent with some of the government's proposed measures.

"In terms of blocking websites, we already do that," he said. "But it all comes down to who's making the call about what's being blocked. We're a business, we don't represent the community."

"We're happy to cooperate with whatever's required of us, but at one stage it was proposed that we'd be the ones who determined what would be blocked, but that responsibility shouldn't fall to us — it's a censorship issue," said Dalby.

Telstra's BigPond, however, takes a different stance. A spokesperson for the ISP said filtering is "part of the overall solution of reducing families' exposure to online risks with education and safe online behaviour being as equally important".

Topics: Censorship, Broadband, Browser, Enterprise 2.0, Government, Government : AU, Malware, Security, Telcos, Telstra

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