Voluntary filtering on track for mid-2011


Stephen Conroy’s Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy tonight said voluntary filtering of the internet for child abuse material by three of Australia’s largest internet service providers was on track to kick off in the middle of this year.

In July last year, Telstra, Optus and Primus revealed they had agreed with the Federal Labor Government that they would voluntarily implement filtering technology to block any of their customers from accessing child pornography online, while the Government conducted a review into the Refused Classification category of content which its much broader mandatory filter project would block.

Tonight, DBCDE deputy secretary for its Digital Economy & Service Group, Abdul Rizvi, told a Senate Estimates Committee hearing the voluntary filtering was slated to kick off in mid-2011.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority was currently developing a subset of internet addresses which would only include child abuse content, he said, and was trialling a “secure method” of transmitting that list to ISPs in the near future. A list which bore some resemblance to what ACMA’s wider list of banned addresses was circulated online in March 2009.

Rizvi said the department would be remaining closely in touch with the ISPs during the process, but confirmed it wasn’t conducting any extra specific efforts regarding the filter project — although it continued to “monitor development in filtering technology around the globe”.

Several ISPs — notably iiNet, Internode and mobile telco VHA — have declined to immediately join the trial.

However, Rizvi said the department was in “regular contact” with the Internet Industry Association, which represents the ISPs and many other groups involved in online content delivery and creation. The IIA was looking to develop an appropriate child pornography filtering framework which other ISPs would be able to participate in voluntarily, he said.

In response to a question from Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam about the future of the voluntary effort, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the voluntary filter would utilise all of the transparency measures which he had introduced to the mandatory filter concept — ranging from avenues for appeal of classification decision to the use of a standardised block page notification on prohibited content.

The news comes as many Australians consider the filter project to be dead in the water generally — despite the ongoing nature of Labor’s review into the RC content category, and the fact that both Conroy and Prime Minister Julia Gillard have reiterated that the policy remains active. Both the Coalition and the Greens have indicated their intent to veto any legislation regarding the filter, should Labor introduce it into Parliament — which would ensure its demise, based upon the current make-up of Parliament.

Image credit: Jef Bettens, royalty free


  1. …uh… Didn’t this story already come out weeks ago? Certain I saw this on whirpool.

    • Hmm not sure! Send me a link if you can find. This isn’t exactly hot news — but it was a useful update from the Senate Estimates session last night.

  2. The 3 ISP’s in the trial are not the 3 largest ISP’s, iiNet is Australia’s 2nd largest ISP.

    • Actually iiNet is Australia’s second-largest provider of ADSL services, but Optus is still the nation’s second-largest ISP. However, you are correct — Primus is not in the top three — or even in the top five :)

  3. Any ISP who signs on for this type of rubbish looses me as a possible customer. Then again my ISP is too smart to agree to this folly.

    • Personally I wouldn’t be too concerned if my ISP wanted to filter the internet for child porn only, and there were transparency measures around how things got on and stayed on that list.

      • I wouldn’t have a problem if it was Child Pornography or Child Sexual Abuse material being filtered either, combined with the transparency you mentioned. One issue I have is there is no mention ever of this material being reported and followed up by those charged with the task (i.e. AFP). There is also no method of a right of reply, what if the person either publishing or hosting the material wanted to challenge the decision legally??

      • I don’t want them to filter child porn, I want them to take the sites down. Covering up crime is not the way to go.

      • The obvious question, even assuming that this (and every subsequent) government can be taken at their word, is what error rate you would consider acceptable in the pursuit of those goals?

        There will be mistakes (that’s practically guaranteed), so perhaps you could share your thoughts on how many days it would be acceptable for an entire domain (say delimiter, for example) to remain blocked (and obviously associated with trafficking in child porn) for?

        The false positives are an annoyance to the end user, but they are going to kill unlucky small businesses outright. The government is never going to compensate businesses for losses from mistakes made by their censorwall.

        That’s just one of the problems with this white elephant, plenty of wiser and smarter people than I have written at length on these issues. You should be concerned about your ISP (indeed, any ISP) censoring, because this issue is bigger than you as an end user.

  4. “The Australian Communications and Media Authority was currently developing a subset of internet addresses which would only include child abuse content, he said, and was trialling a “secure method” of transmitting that list to ISPs in the near future.”

    I can solve that for them right now. Select a ‘trusted’ official at ACMA and have them walk that list over to the AFP. That way the police can do what they are meant to do with illegal ‘child abuse content’.

    Then you don’t need a filter…. but I guess that would upset Conroy’s ‘other plans’…….

    • Playing devil’s advocate here, technically the Australian police wouldn’t be able to do much with it — as the web sites hosting this stuff are typically located overseas in another jurisdiction.

      • Or alternatively is this material the Australian Definition of Child Pornography which includes cartoon figures, drawings etc. which is perfectly legal (even if distasteful) in most other countries… so they wouldn’t have a legal obligation to do anything. Just asking

      • Yet, at the same time, I’ve directly contacted hosting ISP’s (looking up thee DNS details) of sites with scams, etc on them. Informing the admins that they had such content on their servers.

        Within 24 hours, the scam sites have been removed and I usually get a thank you email reply for letting them know.

        Now I’m just an average person with some technical knowledge. Imagine how fast any ISP/hosting company would react, if I called, as a member of the AFP and told them they had child abuse material on their servers….

        It should be noted, in every case, the hosting was oversea’s.

  5. Nothing ‘voluntary’ about this. Voluntary for the ISP – MANDATORY for the consumer. More disinformation from the ministry of truth.

    One can only hope that they’ll end up as successful as that other once large provider of a walled garden ‘internet’ service – AOL.


    • Yup.

      Voluntary is a complete misnomer here. The ISPs involved have volunteered to implement it, but offered no choice for their customers.

      I have zero interest in the material being blocked, but this is a philosophical debate about whether the functionality should or should not be available, and where in the network chain it should be placed if desired.

      Ultimately, responsibility should fall to parents.

      Telstra’s decision to “voluntarily” support this has been a big factor in my choice to drop all services with them.

  6. Next they will claim will cure world hunger, cancer and all other diseases.
    I have absolutely no faith in the filter at all.

    Telstra, Optus and iprimus can go to buggery really now they won’t get my business

  7. Complete bollocks!

    1) No amount of “measures” will allow for actual transparency with a SECRET list
    2) NOT voluntary for the consumer
    3) a first step towards a fully operational MANDATORY FILTER across the board, the objective is obviously to go in with what the consumer will bare and scope creep from there

    Reject this non-sense CENSORSHIP now before it’s too late!

  8. We see what happens when citizens can freely communicate with each other in Egypt and Libya. Of course our government wants to control what we can say to each other and how we can organize our affairs without them. The government is enacting the unfounded, anti-sex position of the churches instead of representing their constituents.

  9. If they block “child abuse material”, whatever that may be, how will they find those people who create, distribute and view this stuff? Wouldn’t it be better, as was mentioned, to give this list to the AFP so they can find out who, in Australia where they have jurisdiction, is using/watching/creating this? Who are they helping by blocking it? You say you don’t mind if they block child porn, is that because you often run across child porn in your daily web surfing by accident? I’ve never come across it and I don’t look for it, so who is being helped by blocking it? Not me, not anyone viewing the net. The people who want to get “child abuse material” will get it whether blocked or not. At least if it isn’t blocked you can see who involved. This is just a way to edge internet content control in under the thin disguise of “why won’t anyone think of the children!” (how about the parents?)
    This is pretty much the reason I voted for anyone and everyone who opposed the filter, regardless of their other policies.

  10. At the end of the day, the Internet filtering will fail in the preventing real world activities such as filfthy pedaphiles will still continue their behaviour regardless and pushed even further underground.

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