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A plan by the Australian government to filter the Internet has the Internet community - and many others - talking. Will the "clean feed" initiative by Aussie Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who swept into power in late 2006, and his Labor government protect children from pornography? Or, as some detractors claim, is it a move toward net censorship?
"It has serious implications for freedom of expression," said David Bernie, vice-president of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, in a Jan. 1 Sydney Morning Herald article. "When you start filtering material on political grounds - even if the material is objectionable or quite awful - we're heading in the same direction as China and Singapore."
Backers of the plan, however, reject the notion the Australian Labor Party is seeking to control the Internet like the Chinese government and others reportedly do.
"Labor makes no apologies to those who argue that any regulation of the Internet is like going down the Chinese road," said Stephen Conroy, Australia's Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, in the Sydney Morning Herald article. "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree."
The proposed plan mandates Internet service providers (ISPs) implement filters that would deliver a "clean feed" to customers, according to a Jan. 3 article on the Australian IT website. The proposal is reportedly to have a blacklist that is used to block sites identified as extremely violent and pornographic. The list of banned sites would be prepared by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, according to the Sydney Morning Herald article. If customers don't wish to have the content filtered they must contact their ISP and opt out.
"We have an opt-out provision, so for X-rated (content) they can opt out, but for child porn and violent sites, they're completely blocked, there's no opt-out," Conroy told the Courier Mail in a 2006 interview.
When Rudd was campaigning, he vowed to introduce filters to protect children. However, he also pledged to increase the speed of Internet connections, which reportedly lag behind other developed countries. Opponents of Rudd's plan say the filters will scuttle his pledge to increase connection speeds.
"The more sites you attempt to block the greater the effect on the network performance and speed," Peter Coroneos, spokesman for the Internet Industry Association, told The Australian newspaper, as he noted every site will need to be checked against the blacklist.
Some question how the creators of the blacklist will keep up with the many pornographic sites. Conroy's predecessor, Helen Coonan, decided not to pursue the filters as it would slow speeds for all users without effectively protecting children, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. As well, she was concerned about the cost of a national system, which she estimated would come with a price tag of $45 million to establish and $33 million a year to maintain.
A Jan. 3 article in The Australian points out that according to OpenNet, Australia already has some of the most restrictive Internet policies in the Western world. The policy requires offensive material to be taken down and is given teeth by legislation that makes distribution of offensive material a criminal offence.
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