The nation's largest telco Telstra last night confirmed that it had started filtering its customers' internet traffic, preventing them from accessing a blacklist of sites containing child pornography as compiled by international policing agency Interpol.
Telstra's filter is an implementation of a voluntary filtering framework developed by the internet service provider (ISP) industry's peak representative body, the Internet Industry Association (IIA). Publicly unveiled on Monday this week, the voluntary filter is expected to be adopted by most Australian ISPs this year.
Customers who visit one of the sites on Interpol's list will be greeted by an Interpol 'stop page' which explains that the content they have attempted to access is illegal, along with instructions on how they can challenge Interpol's ruling. Those who believe their website has been inadvertently blocked by Interpol are able to ask for a review via the agency's own website, or will be able to contact the Australian Federal Police, which Telstra has worked closely with on the filter's implementation.
The Interpol list is believed to have been in use for a number of years, with telcos such as BT, O2 and Virgin having blocked addresses on it for some time. For a site to get onto the list, law enforcement agencies in at least two separate jurisdictions have to validate the entry as being illegal and not just potentially offensive. In addition, the age of children depicted through content on the sites must be younger than 13 years of age, or perceived to be less than 13.
Under the IIA's scheme, ISPs who use the Interpol list to block access to child pornography would be doing so in accordance with "a legal request for assistance" under Australia's existing Telecommunications Act (section 313). Because of this, unlike the wider mandatory filtering scheme, the IIA believes that no new legislation will be required to implement the Interpol-focused framework.
The implementation of Telstra's filter follows a whirlwind of events since the telco first revealed it was considering using the list generated by Interpol.
Last Saturday, Telstra revealed it was close to achieving executive sign-off for its internal filtering proposal. Then on Monday, the IIA revealed Telstra's proposal was part of a wider industry framework under development. Since that time, Optus has also confirmed its support for the framework, although other ISPs such as iiNet and Internode have yet to commit to implementing the scheme.
The limited voluntary filtering initiative is a measure that ISPs and the Federal Government agreed to in mid-2010. The initiative was intended to operate while a review was carried out into the Refused Classification category of content, which the government's wider mandatory filter project is slated to block. The ISPs' filter will only block sites with child pornography instead of those with illegal content in general.
Telstra, Optus and Primus had initially agreed to carry out the voluntary filtering initiative, but Primus has since backed away from the proposal and is yet to make a decision on whether it will implement the IIA scheme.
The implementation of the more limited filter has not raised the same degree of public criticism that the government's more comprehensive internet filter has attracted since the policy was first unveiled back in late 2007. In addition, the IIA has sought to distance its own policy from the government's approach, and hopes the widespread implementation of the filter aimed solely at child pornography will take some heat out of the debate about the wider filter initiative.
However, not everyone believes the IIA's Interpol filter will be effective in meeting its aims. Digital rights lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia has panned the efficacy of the filter, describing it as "security theatre" that wouldn't actually make much difference to the ability of police to enforce the law.