Top Australian ISPs to Begin Censorship Next Month

On Wednesday, Adelaide Now reported that the two largest Australian ISPs, in cooperation with the government, are planning to begin censoring the Internet next month. Telstra and  Optus are implementing a voluntary blacklist; however, information about the technology used or the sites blocked is still unavailable. 

According to a government spokesman, the filtering will involve around 500 websites that contain “child abuse material”, submitted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, with more to be added later. The list of websites will not be public, and so far, no appeals process is planned for websites that are blocked unfairly. Internet experts have had primarily negative reactions to the plan. Concerns include the lack of transparency, lack of appeals process, and the inefficiency of blocking child abuse material via URLs, since most material tends to be swapped via peer-to-peer networks or other private networks.

Australia has had a series of fights over ISP-level filtering in the past. In October 2008, the governing Australian Labor Party proposed a Internet filter based on a ratings blacklist. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy began pushing for filtering after the plan stalled last July. Numerous Australians organizations, including Electronic Frontiers Australia and No Clean Feed opposed the plan, mostly due to its lack of transparency and concerns that it would block non-offensive material that was currently not rated.

This new filtering regime is not directly related to the Conroy/Gillard plan, which has remained controversial. That plan is currently on hold awaiting discussion with stakeholders and review of the content rating laws, which the blacklist would be based on. Some commentators have theorized that the voluntary ISP-level filtering will result in the phasing out of the initial, larger censorship plan, but the government has shown no signs of backing down.  Concerns about the future of a free and open Australian Internet remain strong.

We encourage Australian users to keep reporting if they find inaccessible sites.

Updated (June 27th): Telestra is now wavering in its commitment to the plan, possibly due to recent “hactivist” attacks.

 

About the Author: Kendra Albert

Kendra Albert is an instructional fellow at the Cyberlaw Clinic.

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