NSW to censor student laptops

The NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) plans to limit internet access on the laptops given to NSW's senior students under the "digital education revolution" to a pre-approved list of websites.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) this week revealed plans to limit internet access on the laptops given to the state's senior students under the "digital education revolution" to a pre-approved list of websites.

Speaking at an Australian Information Industry Association lunch yesterday, Michael Coutts-Trotter, DET's director general and its chief information officer, Stephen Wilson, said the department's first priority in allowing students to take the laptops home was to prevent them being sold off.

"On our laptop model, the first question is how do you prevent them from being sold down at the pub," said Coutts-Trotter. "Well, you equip them in a way so they are only of use within a DET environment or are only of use for DET students or authorised users, such as staff."

"So yeah, that's what it would mean: that you would be coming into an authenticated environment from home," he said.

Later, chief information officer Wilson detailed the "unbreakable" filtering system that would control students' internet experience on the proposed laptops.

"Our internet filtering is unbreakable. We have a huge proxy array that does all the filtering. We've just brought that in-house and the reason we have done that is we want much tighter control over it," said Wilson.

DET has developed 98 categories of websites that are accessible to students. "Every internet site that's known is actually categorised. If it isn't known, it's blocked. If you go to a site and it's not categorised you can't get to it," he said.

"I know that the Commonwealth introduced an internet filtering initiative that a high school student broke, or claimed to have broken, very quickly. I just want you to understand ours is completely different. We're at the end of the pipe and nothing goes through that pipe that doesn't get filtered," he said.

The vision hinges on NSW acquiring an extra $245 million funding from the Commonwealth over the $197 million currently proposed, which it has claimed is necessary to deliver a laptop to every student in years nine to 12.

The proposal has outraged long standing e-business consultant and civil rights advocate, Roger Clarke.

"It would be bad enough of them creating a list of blocked sites, but the notion that they would only allow students access to that which has been approved is incredible," he told ZDNet.com.au today.

"What credibility can a government organisation and educational bureaucracy have with the people they're trying to communicate with when the students, through all of their own devices and through friend's devices, have access to the world," he added.

NSW is yet to release an official expression of interest for the laptops it wanted and Wilson said it wouldn't do so until an agreement had been reached with Canberra.

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