The chief executive of one of Australia’s largest Internet service providers has broken his company’s relative silence on the voluntary limited filtering initiative being implemented by Telstra and Optus, defending the project and insisting it not be linked with the Federal Government’s much broader mandatory filtering policy.
So far only Australia’s two largest telcos, Telstra and Optus, have pledged to implement the voluntary filter, which consists of a framework developed by the developed by the ISP industry’s peak representative body, the Internet Industry Association. The filter, which is being seen as a more moderate industry approach developed in reaction to the Federal Government’s much more comprehensive filter scheme, will see the ISPs block a “worst of the worst” list of child pornography sites generated by international police agency Interpol.
iiNet has previously stated it would comply with the law with regard to the filter, although it is unclear whether ISPs would need to comply with police requests to filter the list. However, yesterday iiNet chief executive Michael Malone went further, defending the project in comments made online.
A forum poster on broadband site Whirlpool asked Malone why ISPs weren’t informing their users about the implementation of the Interpol filter or publishing press releases about it.
“Explaining what? If the AFP sends us a lawful order, we comply with it. How is that news? We comply with such instruments every day,” Malone replied.
In response to a commenter who objected to the Interpol filter being implemented, Malone sarcastically asked whether the Australian Federal Police should “do nothing about a foreign site that they know contains genuine child pornography” and whether “iiNet should refuse to comply with a lawful order issued by the AFP”.
Another iiNet employee, posting their personal comments, commented that although they were personally opposed to the filter and would be disappointed if iiNet chose to implement the scheme, they couldn’t realistically expect companies like iiNet to commit “acts of civil disobedience” in such matters — appearing to imply iiNet could refuse an AFP request to filter the Interpol list. “It would be nice if they did,” they wrote.
However, Malone fired back that he didn’t think it would be “nice”.
“iiNet was and remains a most vocal opponent of the government filter. They were proposing a secret list of sites, covering “objectionable” material, or at least the murky refused classification,” Malone wrote. “The AFP is considering a small list of child porn, assembled by law enforcement bodies, reviewed by multiple countries.”
“We need to ensure this is not confused with the government’s proposed filter. That is not dead yet either and needs to be opposed. An order from the AFP to blackhole a site containing internationally recognised child porn is not the same as the government filter.”
Malone said he didn’t believe the Interpol list would be ‘infallible’, but that wasn’t a reason for the scheme not to go ahead.
“Every other law from speeding to accusations of murder is occasionally misapplied too. That is no excuse for inaction,” he added. “Of course they’re not pretending this will fix the problem. If it goes ahead, it’s just one of many actions employed by the AFP and others to tackle the proliferation of child porn. In this case, the AFP seems to be at pains to make sure their orders will be as error free as possible.”
Malone’s comments appear to place iiNet in the middle between two sharply opposed camps of ISPs on the filter issue. Internode, TPG and Exetel have all distanced themselves from the voluntary filtering scheme over the past few weeks, while Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have signalled their support for the initiative, although Vodafone has not yet confirmed that it will definitely implement the filter.
Telstra’s implementation of the filter has already gone live, with Optus planning to do the same over the next few weeks. The legal mechanism under which the filter is being introduced is Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act. Under the Act, the Australian Federal Police is allowed to issue notices to telcos asking for reasonable assistance in upholding the law. It is believed the AFP has issued such notices to Telstra and Optus to ask them to filter the Interpol blacklist of sites.
However, other ISPs such as Internode, TPG and Exetel appear to be uncertain as to where precisely they would stand if the AFP issued such a notice to them — for example, if they would be forced to implement the filter against their wishes. Several have stated that it would be more appropriate for a filtering proposal to be debated through Federal Parliament and become the subject of legislation before it was implemented by ISPs.
Image credit: Delimiter