Asher Moses
Sydney Morning Herald

July 9, 2010

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has capitulated to widespread concerns over his internet censorship policy and delayed any mandatory filters until at least next year.

Academics, ISP experts, political opponents, the US government and a broad cross-section of community groups have long argued that the plan to block a secret blacklist of "refused classification" web pages for all Australians was fraught with issues, for example, that blocked RC content could include innocuous material.

Having consistently ignored these concerns, Senator Conroy today announced that implementation of his policy would be delayed until a review of RC classification guidelines could be conducted by state and territory censorship ministers.

This is not expected to begin until at least the middle of next year.

"Some sections of the community have expressed concern about whether the range of material included in the RC category ... correctly reflects current community standards," Senator Conroy said.

"As the government's mandatory ISP filtering policy is underpinned by the strength of our classification system, the legal obligation to commence mandatory ISP filtering will not be imposed until the review is completed."

In the meantime, major ISPs - including Optus, Telstra and iPrimus - have pledged to block child-abuse websites voluntarily. This narrower, voluntary approach has long been advocated by internet experts and brings Australia into line with other countries such as Britain.

"It will be just child porn, and that will be consistent with best practice in Scandinavia and Europe," Peter Coroneos, chief executive of the Internet Industry Association, said.

But the government does not seem to be backing out of the deeply unpopular mandatory filtering policy altogether, as it has today announced a suite of transparency and accountability measures to address concerns about the scheme.

These include:

  • an annual review of content on the blacklist by an "independent expert".
  • clear avenues of appeal for people whose sites are blocked.
  • content will be added to the blacklist by the Classification Board, instead of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
  • affected parties will have the ability to have decisions reviewed by the Classification Review Board.
  • people will know when they surf to a blocked page as a notification will appear.

"The public needs to have confidence that the URLs on the list, and the process by which they get there, is independent, rigorous, free from interference or influence and enables content and site owners access to appropriate review mechanisms," Senator Conroy said.

One of Senator Conroy's strongest political critics, Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam, took the move by the government as a sign the critics were winning their battle to have the policy modified.

"A review of the RC is helping; that's a good idea. I think the fact that ISPs are putting their own initiatives forward voluntarily is also helpful," Senator Ludlam said.

"[But] if we're still pursuing mandatory ISP-level filtering then obviously we're not there yet. All we've got today is a useful acknowledgment of some of the flaws in the system and I'm hoping that they take this period to reflect on the overall objectives of the scheme."

Full article here