Western Australian Internet body slams censorship policy

Summary:The Western Australian Internet Association (WAIA) has slammed the Internet censorship policy created by the Family First Party in the wake of Australia's biggest ever child porn bust. The group said it "shares the public's outrage" over the child pornography racket but it is "concerned that the actions of a small minority could be used as a justification for unwarranted restrictions on the rights of ordinary Internet users to access material freely online".

The Western Australian Internet Association (WAIA) has slammed the Internet censorship policy created by the Family First Party in the wake of Australia's biggest ever child porn bust.

The group said it "shares the public's outrage" over the child pornography racket but it is "concerned that the actions of a small minority could be used as a justification for unwarranted restrictions on the rights of ordinary Internet users to access material freely online".

The Family First Party policy statement said it will "work to achieve government commitment to establish a mandatory filtering scheme at the ISP server level in this country", adding that "in the best interest of children the government must take a more proactive role".

The Party estimates that "set up costs" for the initiative will cost around AU$45 million. However, it adds that "some or all of the costs could be passed on to Internet users".

Yet, WAIA describes the policy as "poorly thought out and unworkable".

Media officer for WAIA, Jeremy Malcolm, said "Internet content filters at ISP level are expensive and ultimately, the user can get around them." He adds that he is "appalled" at the Party's admission that the initiative may have adverse effects on smaller ISPs.

"This policy would certainly put a dent in the pockets of ISPs and send some smaller ISPs under. It would also slow down Internet access," he told ZDNet Australia  today.

The Family First policy document states that while the levy to fund the scheme would cost around AU$7 per user annually, the charge may put "cost pressures on smaller ISPs". Yet the document states that "there is arguably too many of these [ISPs] at the moment and adequate competition could be maintained with 30 ISPs rather than the hundreds in existence now".

Malcolm said "if the same reasoning was used in respect of farmers, there would be national outrage".

"WAIA supports the commercial operations of smaller ISPs. We believe it is vital for the marketplace to be composed of both large and small ISPs to fulfil the full range of the community's needs for Internet services," he said.

According to Malcolm, "parents should address this problem at their own end".

However, the Family First Party quotes the Australia Institute as stating "reliance on education and end use supervision and filtering take up fails to protect vulnerable children in dysfunctional households where there is neglect". It adds that lack of parental education on the issue has also not been taken into account when considering child protection.

"The present system of education and the promotion of end user filtering has clearly failed," it stated.

Malcolm responds that it is not the government's responsibility to fulfil parental obligations to child Internet users and that "dysfunctional parenting is a social issue that should be tackled at a community level".

"What's the difference between parents allowing their children to access pornography over the Internet or through access to their adult magazines or videos?" he said. Malcolm also points to the "well-funded" NetAlert parental education programs as response to concerns over supervision.

The Family First Party said according to a news poll conducted by the Australia Institute, 93 percent of parents of teenage children support an "automatic filtering of internet pornography going into homes".

Yet, Malcolm maintains that ISPs are already doing their part.

"ISPs already cooperate with law enforcement authorities in combating child pornography and other crimes under Australian law. They have no interest in allowing paedophiles and similar criminals to operate using their network," he said.

Malcolm said there is little "immediate danger" of this scheme being adopted by the new government, however he adds "there is some public feeling out there along these lines, but we need to make sure both sides of the coin are recognised".

"NetAlert and the crime fighting forces we have already are doing a fair job of combating this problem, but because it's a global resource its never going to be 100 percent fixed," he said.

Topics: Browser, Broadband, Censorship, Government : AU

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.