UK internet filtering plan re-energises Australian censorship crusade

It is not really surprising that internet filtering plans in the UK would bring the pro-filter people back out in Australia.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

It was only a matter of time after news came out that UK internet service providers (ISPs) would begin filtering internet services of adult content by default before the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) would again ask for Australia's internet to be filtered.

The political lobby group, which claims to represent the Christians in Australia and says it has approximately 10,000 supporters, has often called for freedom of speech in regards to religious groups being able to speak out against homosexuality. However, it has long backed broad censoring of the internet since 2007, when the Rudd and Gillard governments had planned on introducing a mandatory ISP-level internet filter into Australia.

In 2008, then-ACL managing director Jim Wallace described the filter as "vital" to "protect society's most vulnerable".

"Obviously, the internet industry is going to continue to fight this important initiative, but the interests of children must be placed first," he said.

"Claims the government will impose China-style curbing of free speech are ridiculous, given Australia's robust parliamentary democracy, something China does not have," Wallace said in another release.

The ACL didn't want consumers to be able to make a choice on whether the filter should be on or off, as is the case with the UK scheme. In 2010, on the question of whether a software-based filter would be better, the organisation said that ISP-level filtering would be more effective for protecting the community as a whole.

When then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced that he would dump plans for the broad mandatory filter in favour of requiring ISPs to only block the Interpol "worst-of" list of child abuse sites at the end of 2012, the ACL claimed it fell short of the 2010 election commitment from the Labor party.

So it was fairly unsurprising that after UK Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this week committed to having a "default on" internet filtering scheme in place for all Britons by the end of 2014, the ACL would be only too pleased. The organisation's new managing director Lyle Shelton said that government intervention is needed to prevent children from accessing pornographic material online.

"Parents are looking for clear and trustworthy commitments from the government and genuine action to protect children online," he said.

It's somewhat amusing that the organisation that has warned in the past against Australia following the UK in legalising same-sex marriage is now pushing for us to follow the UK in regards to internet filtering proposals.

The group claims that Cameron failed to protect freedom of religion with the marriage laws in the UK, but, nevertheless, he will now be the ACL poster boy for internet censorship in Australia.

While the ACL is the highest-profile advocate of internet filtering in Australia, it is not the only organisation calling for it. Family Voice Australia's research director Ros Phillips earlier this week also called on the government to bring back its filtering plans.

"Parents can install filters on their home computers, but that's not enough," she said. "They cannot protect their children from pornography on unfiltered mobile phones that other children take delight in passing around. There is instant access to hardcore material, where women are treated as objects to be sexually abused in the most demeaning ways.

"Last year, Communications Minister Senator Conroy broke his election promise of a mandated ISP clean feed service. Can we count on a new Rudd government to take serious action?"

The difficulty with calling for the Australian scheme to return on the back of the UK's moves is that the Australian and UK schemes are very different.

Australia's proposed ISP-level filter was mandatory, while the UK's scheme allows users to opt out if they wish.

In the UK, the technology used to block content and the sites that are blocked are determined by the ISP, while in Australia, the sites to be blocked would have been determined by the Classification Board and would be administered by Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), with the list of sites not being made publicly available.

The UK plan also has the backing of the four largest ISPs; in Australia, our third-largest ISP, iiNet, is vehemently opposed to a mandatory internet filtering scheme.

While the lobby groups will no doubt be looking to make internet filtering a key election issue, given that the Coalition, Labor, and the Greens are now all against a massive mandatory internet filter, their calls will largely fall on deaf ears for now.

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