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.