Western Australian Internet body slams censorship policy

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

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  • I am appalled by Jeremy Malcom's comments, and disregard for the safety of children in an adult world.

    During several years with the tech support team of the largest ISP in the country, I spoke with the full range of internet users. No amount of social engineering will ever solve this problem.

    The majority of parents (especially those over 35), do not have any education on computers and the internet, in fact most have already decided they do not want to know. The main reason for connecting was for the benefit of their children's education (a requirment at some schools now). Non-account holder calls from children are very common, and ironically, many parents ask their children (as young as 6 years old) to talk with technical customer service representatives, as they prefer not to be embarrassed, by their lack of knowledge. This increases talk time which is a problem for the agents, who need to talk to roughly 60 customers a day to get their pay bonus.

    Most parants try the content filtering available in Internet Explorer, but find it difficult to understand, as the children usually have the knowledge required to copy passwords and reset the filtering, in any case.

    Journalists and media folk need to stop generalising in regards to 'internet savvy' as there is no government regulated proficiency test for people to pass prior to going online. The spyware inferno, has also been created due to an inherent lack of knowledge. Companies using subtle marketing techniques are also responsible for misleading the public, in regards to the complexities involved.

    There appear to be many unqualified experts with a myriad of opinions, and very little practiced knowledge. It is clear we have a serious problem, and can not rely on the average parant to understand. This leaves the government (currently failing to even state an IT policy) and ISP's. Now, amidst an onslaught of e-commerce scams, unslicted emails, key stroke loggers capturing identity and credit card information, third party ad-serving increasing download, branded popularity search engines, where is the profit going?

    The Family First party have a very good point, which the next government will have to face. A decision to leave the problem on the desktop, will see more children abused. That is clearly not acceptable.

    Roger Close
    Enterprise Systems Integration
  • I whole heartedly support the informed commentry of Jeremy Malcolm and WAIA in general.

    ISP based filtering is a great idea but is completely unworkable due to the investment required and the performance penalty it would incur. Furthermore I assume that enrypted traffic is irrelevant to those promoting the concept for ISP based filtering.

    If China is unable to enforce filtering effectively in a commuist society I seriously beieve that the success rate here would be even lower. See http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/filtering/china/google-kw-chart.html for a list fo google searches blocked in China.

    Furthermore what is the point of filtering without reporting? I would much rather know who, what, and when the content was accessed in my own home.

    Ignorance is bliss.
  • If this is the way we are heading then why don
  • To Malcom and Friends...

    Further to my original comments please refer to the Australian Industry Association guidelines on content filtering:


    Here is a quote:

    "Most internet users in Australia are now serviced by Code compliant ISPs and are entitled to seek solutions from them if they are worried about inappropriate access of online content. Under the Code ISPs must abide by the request and must not make a profit from the provision of internet content filters."

    Hopefully this smart idea will be adopted by state agencies providing opinion to national news departments.
  • I agree with '.' We may as well become commies. Sure protecting children from bad stuff on the net is important. But as a 24 yr old, I enjoy the freedom to see unsolicited data on the internet. One of the greatest things about the internet, is that repressed people who are unable to speak out, have a medium (the net) to express any feelings they like. I believe that ISP's should give the option to have filtering, but am strongly against compulsory filtering. I believe in freedom of epxression, and am annoyed by the suffocation of having the right to choose taken from me. I definately dont want fascist nazis like the family first party telling me what i can and can not view on the World Wide Web (yes, thats what it stands for). Not GFW Government Filtered Web.
  • Hey Roger

    Hmmm, I'm sure you would like to see such kind of an idea implemented because I see your firm could stand to get a pieace of the $70 million dollar contract that would be required to set up this idea
  • After more than a decade of fighting online child pornography distribution, I can attest to the fact that major distribution has moved from mainly website-based avenues (as in the late 80's to early/mid 90's) to the less-policed networks of P2P file sharing applications. Such a filtering initiative would do nothing to curb the rivers of sludge coursing through these peer-hosted channels.

    This is like appointing night watchmen around nursing homes to deal with drunken brawls - completely misplaced and ill-thought out.
  • I would just like to point out to Roger Close that, while he argued against education as a solution to this problem, he did not provide anything to support the theory that mandatory ISP filtering would help at all either.

    I believe that the internet will never be adequately 'filtered', as there will ALWAYS be ways to get around such measures, but providing free or subsidized filtering packages for all connected homes as well as more general awareness on the needs of parental supervision may go some way towards limiting the exposure of our so fleetingly-innocent children to offensive material.

    there will never be a complete solution - the problem cannot be 'fixed', it can only be improved, and the government filtering approach will NOT improve the situation to a sufficient degree to warrant the defecit (both financially, and in terms of internet efficiency) incurred.

    Furthermore, inadequate filtering measures will, in my opinion, be seen as an excuse for complacency in the much-needed supervision and education that can help this problem, meaning that this approach may indeed exacerbate the problem rather than assisting.