news Internode managing director Simon Hackett said over the weekend that his company’s cautious approach to government Internet filtering schemes would not change after its acquisition by iiNet.
Last week, shortly before Christmas, iiNet announced the acquisition of Internode for $105 million, which made it the third largest Internet service provider (ISP). The announcement also said that despite the acquisition, Internode would continue to operate as a separate brand.
However, on Dec 19, 2011 a few days before the announcement of the acquisition, an Australian Federal Police (AFP) document released under Freedom of Information laws revealed that iiNet and Internode had expressed their interest in implementing the limited Internet filtering scheme being overseen by the Australian Federal Police, in co-operation with international policing agency Interpol. So far Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Cyberone have voluntarily signed up for the scheme.
The initiative was proposed by the Internet Industry Association in late July this year, as a voluntary code of practice that would see ISPs block a list of a “worst of the worst” list of child pornography sites generated by Interpol and overseen by the AFP. It has been seen as a more moderate industry approach developed in reaction to the Federal Government’s much more comprehensive filter scheme.
While the reason for the current filter is to block sites of child pornography, there is speculation that the same process could be used to block other sites that are considered unacceptable like those on euthanasia or abortion. While ISPs currently have the ‘option’ of voluntarily installing filters, the individual customer has no such choice and would be bound by their ISP’s decision.
Internode has generally taken an ambivalent approach to the scheme. In July this year, when Telstra and Optus had signed up voluntarily for the scheme, Internode said that it had concerns about the administration of the blacklisted URLs related to child pornography and refused to apply it.
In a post on the Whirlpool broadband forum over the weekend, answering a question on Internode’s agreeing to implement Internet filtering systems, Hackett said Internode’s filter stance would not change: “We have no incentive to impose mandatory content filtering without a legal basis that requires us to do so”. There is currently no known method for the Government or the AFP to mandatorily force ISPs to filter content located overseas, although it has been speculated that the Section 313 Telecommunications Act notice process which the limited Interpol filter is using could be applied in a mandatory fashion to ISPs.
Any implementation of Labor’s much wider Internet filtering scheme would likely be dependent on associated legislation passing through Federal Parliament. However, with both the Greens and the Coalition currently opposed to such a scheme, this is unlikely to occur in the medium term.
Hackett emphasised Internode’s need to comply with the law, noting ISPs are bound by the law like every other business entity and have to follow government regulations irrespective of their personal opinion if they hope to stay in business.
“On the other hand, to state the (I hope) bleeding obvious, if we are required to do so because a law requires us to do so, then we would have absolutely no choice than to do so,” the Internode chief wrote. “This is not a matter of morality, money, or opinion – merely a matter of the necessity for any company that expects to remain in business needing to obey the laws of the land.”
“Don’t like the laws of the land? Vote for someone who promises to change them – thats the only avenue you have. Appealing to your ISP to break the law for you (or implying that they should be taking this sort of bullet for you in any context) is just not sane or reasonable. ISPs have to obey the law. This is not complicated. ISPs also have no incentive to ‘over-reach’ the law either. This is, also, not complicated.”
“I can’t figure out why people keep thinking ISPs have any interest in forcing their customers to do things against their will, without the ISP being legally required to do so. What is it with that? You don’t think we have better things to do with our time and money than to spend millions of dollars imposing transparent packet interception equipment just for kicks?”
Image credit: Internode