ZDNet.com.au readers slam content filtering

We asked readers to respond with an email indicating what they thought about the government's plan to filter internet content at the ISP level — the response was overwhelming.
Written by Brian Haverty, Contributor on

In last Friday's Week in Review newsletter, we asked readers to respond with an email indicating what they thought about the government's plan to filter internet content at the ISP level. The response was overwhelming, and as of November 19, 2008, the results stand at:

YES, I think we should at least make the effort: 8%

NO, it goes against everything the internet stands for: 92%

Thanks to all those who replied -- we will continue to update the results as they come in. If you'd like to have your say, click on the response above to email ZDNet.com.au, or add your comments in the Talkback section below.

Here are just some of the reader comments we've received on the topic:

YES, we should at least make the effort

Not worried about adults. I worry about children. -Lex

Internet content should be subject to the same content classification regulation as other media. It is, however, a big challenge and the long run solution to both prohibiting access to material that would be refused classification and providing greater assistance to users in controlling content to other material should be an ongoing objective of internet firms and the IETF. Adding classifications to domain names in the DNS is a good long term solution. Even this isn't perfect — the fact that you can't import refused classification videos doesn't mean that some might get through in ordinary mail. But claiming as an industry that it is not a problem they ned to deal with is short sighted and futile. -David

The problem of child protection comes into this. We have all seen the content that gets through and a great deal of it is unacceptable. My only concern is [about] those who make the rules about what is good and what is not: will [they be] be made by people who have their own agendas? -Daniel

Content filtering is important for families and organisations who wish to restrict what their members are allowed to see on the internet. The internet is a portal to the best and worst of human kind, and in the same way that I am responsible for and limit what my children are exposed to in the real world (as far as that is possible!), I must also do this for the virtual world which is in my home through the internet. The internet makes both bad and good things easy and the easier something is, the more people will do it. -Andrew

Thank you for the wording of your yes response option, which is not leading the witness. There are two questions here:
— Will ISP-level filtering cause Internet slowness or additional costs? and
— How can we protect children and vulnerable lonely adults from exploitation, which has dramatic social costs?
Given that home filtering is an abject failure where parents do not have a high level of technical skill, then if we decide as a society that our children should not see certain things on home computers the filtering must be upstream. Closed system trials of ISP filtering suggest some slowness in response times. But when you consider that if content is blocked at the entry point to Australia, all downstream ISPs will have less traffic to filter, then the results might surprise. Let's do the empirical science through a trial and see what lessons we can learn before just cheering with the cashed-up purveyors of porn who are getting all the media support. -Francis

We certainly need a solution that allows parents to be able to protect their kids (or themselves) from this stuff. Is an ISP-based filtering system the way to go? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Maybe an international agreement by governments to impose laws that heavily penalise sites that have R18+ content and do not rate themselves as such. People would be happy to use programs like NetNanny if they need it, so long as it worked. Right now it doesn't work so well. -Stuart

NO, it goes against everything the internet stands for

How long before sites opposed to the Government view are blocked? -Geoff

Also technically ridiculous, against FOI, politically unwise, damaging to education and business, makes Australia look backward and out of touch, etc, etc. -Judy

My basic reasons for being against this proposal are:
1. Technologically not feasible. Better minds than mine can explain the limitations in so far as not all traffic is filtered, the performance hit to our bandwidth when you try to filter every HTTP page enquiry, etc.
2. Slippery slope. No government can be trusted not to abuse this in the future no matter what side of the political fence you live on. It will be abused by governments trying to curry favour in the senate, to satisfy their own hobby horses, etc.
3. Strange as it may sound, the responsibility of raising a child and enforcing what they do and don't view is the parents' ... not the government's. I say this as a parent myself. Parents have been given the option of obtaining free-of-charge filtering software for their home computers. They should use it.
4. Freedom of speech, freedom of information, the right to privacy. Basic rights are continuously being sacrificed and eroded in name of various causes whether it be terrorism, child protection, climate change, copyright, etc. And with little challenge by anyone. And they need to be challenged because in virtually all cases the measures have no real impact on those things they purport to protect us against. -Brad

Where does individual accountability come into it? Its time for society to take a step back and think about personal responsibility to self and others and that does definitely not involve the government being required to censor our available communication channels. -Kim

I don't download porn, and also disagree with child porn. But I don't like the idea of government regulating internet content. Maybe good intentions now, but can easily be used later to (for instance) ban content that may be negative to the government in power, amongst others. It is the start of the slippery slope. -Gordon

In an age when journalism is being more and more constrained by cross-media ownership and the requirements of "infotainment", we need to be able to get access to information in order to properly hold those in power accountable. For all the talk of "won't somebody think of the children!", the so-called clean feed won't protect them, and in fact will disadvantage them as much as their parents in withdrawing their ability to become informed, which is why it was used in China in exactly the same manner. This is a hysterical response to a moral panic and has no place in a democracy. Why is no-one asking the question as to why parents have treated electronic equipment like baby-sitters since the invention of the TV? It's not the internet that needs fixing. -Fiona

Where does this censorship end? We criticised China for censorship during the Olympics but we are doing the same. Let parents exercise proper control over their own kids -- not only the internet but other aspects as well. Why should we have reduced access and speed because some people are too lazy to accept their own responsibility for their kids but expect the Government to do it for them? -Ken

It is pointless, The sites will move as soon as they are listed. It's much better to educate people, then it does no harm. -Jim

Not at the ISP, but better tools to help for parents to filter should be developed, as these are used by the choice and not enforced on all users. -Anne

Having read the ACMA submission, ignoring all the censorship related issues, I don't think that it is feasible given that their own tests displayed terrible results and from what I can gather only used 6 PCs and one server? Their decision is solely based on assumptions that technology will improve. --Dylan

Yes, I do strongly believe in and support the principal of a free internet, without any sort of censorship. -George

I don't understand what axe Senator Conroy has to grind here but he certainly seems to have one as illogical as it is.... -Jon

We condemn China then do it ourselves? -Andrew

I'm sure most in industry are telling you it's unfeasible anyway.... Popularist politics at its worst. -Lachlan

Major ISPs should instead be required to stock a certain type/class of router that can be provided (at additional cost) to parents but comes pre-configured with better default security, a content filtering system and updates by subscription. A central ISP-agnostic call centre could then guide users on making any changes. -Evahn

Those who wish to filter content will. There's no reason it needs to be slowed down or limited for the rest of the populace, particularly those who rely heavily on it for their business. Censorship as a choice is more effective in creating a well informed and effective society than censorship as an enforcement. The internet is one area the government haven't found a way to tightly control yet, let's hope it stays that way. -Aaron

For a government so focused on having a "mandate", I'd like them to explain the rationale behind the decision to make Internet filtering compulsory -- I do not recall this or any other government censorship having been put to the voters. Who is going to determine what sites are blocked? Are we to expect any site contrary to the government's agenda to be included at some time in the future? Is this simply the first step to government censorship in a broader sense? Given the possible implications for freedoms within the country maybe the government should be more open and ask the people what they want and not simply impose the thoughts and an unrepresentative minority. -Colin

We need to make every effort to protect our young people (and, I guess, the sick people), but I just don't think a filter will work. We have filtering in our workplace, and it blocks out several things it shouldn't in addition to some that it should. Is it worth doing anyway, just to try? That depends on the cost. -Debra

An emphatic NO, there exists numerous laws to regulate what can and cannot be said in the public domain, laws against obscenity etc. and these are enough. It goes against everything Australia stands for. The basic principle is one of mass censorship of whatever the agency who will be in charge of this will impose. It is against the interests of Australians and Australia, will project an intolerant image overseas and be an implicit endorsement of repressive regimes who already do this globally, all of which are generally reviled in international circles. Does Australia relay want to join Iran, Saudi Arabia and China? I won't add North Korea because they have solved the "problem" by banning the internet altogether! The above views are in my own capacity, as an Australian working overseas. -Michael

The government is not listening. None of the ISPs want it, majority of peple don't want it, it doesn't work, will slow down our already overloaded networks, no accountability for sites blocked.... Need I go on? -Greg

No, no, no. When someone decides they should filter out images of war and other multimedia that let us know how badly the rest of the world has it, it will have gone way too far. Let the human mind do the censoring, not some old fart in an office. It's great to see you taking the issue on. -Scott

The biggest problem I see with this (apart from the actual implementation) is the lack of information available. The government has no idea of how they will do it, they don't appear to know what they really want and how they will maintain it. What happens in two years when it is off the radar? Also, I am not entirely opposed to the "concept" as long as it is an "opt in" style of arrangement. Yes, Net Nanny and all that is available, but to be able to block content at the ISP level is a nice way of ensuring "slip ups" don't occur. But this is available already so why is the government hell bent on making it mandatory? Completely unworkable is my view especially as bit torrent technology renders this useless. Anyway, my 2c worth. I wonder what technological marvels they will think up next? Maybe a laptop for every child? Oh, they've already screwed that up. Sigh. -Anthony

Censorship of any kind is always the thin edge of the wedge, it will lead to more draconian measures. People must take responsibility for their own actions and that of their children it is not the Government's place to censor the internet. Rather spend the money on fighting crime in webspace. -Alan

There are already laws for the purpose of dealing with cyber criminals. ISPs are not policemen. Serious criminals will bypass this naive pathetic attempt. The standard argument of the government of the day choosing to change the rules as they whim it. This is dangerous as already documented my many others. My solution: because I believe many of the issues that are real a problem to mostly non savvy IT people, the ISP block may seem like a quick fix for these people that don't know how to guard themselves or their kids. They quite rightly should be able to choose what is objectionable but don't have the skills on how to achieve this. I protect my children by using "Safe Eyes" that the previous government made available and it works quite well. Even so, it's not perfect and I often have to use the admin login password and let a wrongly tagged internet site become available to my kids. Safe Eyes would be one of the higher-quality programs and it still gets it wrong. How is the government gonna get this right? Eg: After implementation of of the government filter and it tags a clean website improperly, I complain to (whatever government authority), they put it to committee (as they should) and maybe months later the website that was sitting in a similar web server to previous kiddie porn site is after due process proclaimed to be ok. Yeah right, my kids project was due last year. Perhaps the government should make a law that forces all new computers sold in this country to have content blocking software installed and working prior to sale and leave the selection of what is appropriate up to the users. This may take a few years to take full effect but the people that need protection will have it ready to use. Another idea is maybe getting Microsoft to get onboard and provide a REAL filter that could be deployed via Microsoft update. Not sure how Apple could do this and Linux users will just bypass the new government filter just for the fun of it. My 2 cents. -Glen

It also goes against everything a free society should stand for — trust in its citizens to make their own informed decisions. The Rudd government is demonstrating that it does not trust ordinary people to make good decisions and must intervene like a scolding parent. It isn't just in this area, it is a pattern of behaviour played out again and again in many other policy areas. It is unfortunate that the current economic climate is giving him the clear way to do this to us. We will all be poorer as people for these sorts of government action — we will end up a society which is unable to take personal responsibility for our actions. -Jamie

Apart from the technical issues, cost, potential slow down, false negatives, etc, I don't know about you but I just do not trust the government, regardless of which government with this sort of power to dictate what THEY decide as being appropriate. -Ken

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