Aussie govt unveils US$167.1M plan to block porn

Australian Prime Minister John Howard last night announced a Coalition plan to clean up Internet porn, in an effort to woo Christian voters.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard last night announced a Coalition plan to clean up Internet porn, in an effort to woo Christian voters.

The AU$189 million (US$167.1 million) NetAlert--Protecting Australian Families Online program will go live from Aug. 20, with a package of measures that the government says will help parents protect their children from online dangers. Howard announced the slew of changes in a joint Web cast with Opposition leader Kevin Rudd, broadcast to 770 churches and watched by an estimated 100,000 Christians.

The lion's share of the cash--AU$84.8 million (US$75 million)--will go into a filtering scheme offered to individual homes and public libraries. Worried parents will be able to choose between installing filtering software at the PC level and requesting a clean pipe from their service provider, who will be charged with blocking pornographic content at the ISP level.

The government will post a list of approved filtering software providers on its Web site and mandate that all sanctioned vendors update their products as the threat landscape changes.

While individual filters will be available from later this month, ISP-level blocking may take some time to implement. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is currently planning a trial of ISP-level filtering in Tasmania which will inform the government's decision on a national rollout.

The federal government has already examined the potential ISP-level filtering three times: firstly in 1999 in a CSIRO technical trial; in 2003-04 as part of the review of the Online Content Scheme; and in 2005 during a trial conducted by NetAlert, involving the RMIT and ACMA.

Following the most recent trial, Coonan acknowledged problems with the concept saying, "Each report has found significant problems with content filter products operating at the ISP-level. The Australian trials have also found the effect on performance of the Internet by ISP filtering to be substantial and a lack of scalability of the filters to larger ISPs."

The NetAlert--Protecting Australian Families Online program will also see publicity campaigns stepped up, including a AU$22 million (US$19.5 million) awareness scheme to "inform parents and carers of children about online safety issues and provide information about where they can go to receive support and assistance", and 10 new ACMA Internet safety officers who will visit schools to talk about online dangers.

More 'Web police' will be added to the Online Child Sex Exploitation Team (OCSET), which will receive a AU$43.5 million (US$38.5 million) cash injection to pay 36 new hires in 2007-08, rising to a total of 90 in 2009-10. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions will also receive a funding boost to cope with the expected increase in prosecutions resulting from OCSET's additional staff.

Other changes include an extension of the ACMA Blacklist, which includes pornography denied classification by the regulator, to cover malware and terror sites.

The plan comes in addition to a previously announced government initiatives to curb online pornography. Communications Minister Helen Coonan first unveiled the plan to launch content filters last year, although the scheme has been beset with delays since then.

Coonan welcomed today's announcement, saying in a statement,"Unfortunately, no single measure alone can protect children from online harm and in fact, traditional parenting skills have never been more important."