NSW calls Conroy on Euro filter fudge

An analysis of ISP filtering schemes in Europe has shown that none have adopted mandatory filtering — a claim Senator Conroy has used to justify such a scheme in Australia.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

An analysis of ISP filtering schemes in Europe has shown that none have adopted mandatory filtering — a claim Senator Conroy has used to justify such a scheme in Australia.

"With the limited exceptions of Germany and Italy, mandatory ISP level filtering is not a feature of any of the countries reviewed," Tom Edwards and Gareth Griffith wrote in a special research note published by the NSW Parliamentary Library Service.

The department provided the research to a member of the NSW parliament who was interested in the subject, Edwards told ZDNet.com.au. He declined to say who the member was.

The authors noted that on 20 October, Conroy suggested a two-tier filtering scheme in parliament. "Mandatory of illegal material and an option for families to get a clean feed service if they wish", Conroy said.

The research went on to address claims made by Conroy where he had compared the proposed mandatory ISP-level filtering scheme to that adopted by Sweden, the UK, Canada and New Zealand.

The closest model to that proposed for Australia was the UK, the research found, however, even there, participation by ISPs was "encouraged, under threat of regulatory intervention should it fail to do so."

The researchers also highlighted a weakness in any claim that the filtering would prevent paedophiles from accessing child porn. BT admitted that the UK's "Cleanfeed" scheme was "intended to prevent users inadvertently accessing illegal material, rather than to stop hardened paedophiles."

BT also said the filtering technology would not prevent people accessing content outside the UK's equivalent of the Australian Communication and Media Authority's blacklist, which is managed by a non-government organisation, the Internet Watch Foundation.

The Internet Industry Association (IIA) has pointed out that while the authors said that Italy had imposed mandatory filtering, it was "in fact subordinate legislation — not law per se. It gives effect to an agreement that was previously reached by ISPs and the relevant regulator. To that extent, Italy has not enacted mandatory ISP filtering, either."

The IIA added that Germany's regulation of search engines was implemented by agreement.

A summary of other filtering schemes

  • In Norway and Sweden, the ISP filtering of all child pornographic material had been implemented at Telenora from 2004. Other ISPs had not followed suit.
  • Since 2005, Germany imposed filtering requirements on search engines rather than ISPs.
  • Italy had passed a decree in 2007 which required all ISPs to block access to child pornography websites within six hours of being notified by the National Centre against Child Pornography.
  • Attempts in the US to extend the Child Online Protection Act, which requires federally funded institutions, such as libraries and schools, to block material that is harmful to minors, have been contested on the grounds of free speech.
  • New Zealand's ISPs voluntarily filter content and those that do tend to market themselves as family-friendly. David Cunliffe, the relevant Minister in the outgoing New Zealand Labour Government, said New Zealand would not be following Australia's mandatory ISP filtering scheme.

A copy of the research can be downloaded here.

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