ISP mandatory filter plan could start in 2013

November 16, 2010

Fran Foo

LABOR'S controversial mandatory internet filter scheme could be delayed until 2013, when the next federal election is due. 

In the meantime, the government will give ISPs $8 million in incentives to encourage customers to voluntarily block adult material such as general pornography and gambling sites at home.

Labor wants to force ISPs to filter refused-classification content from the internet, but incoming government briefs from the Department of Broadband show that legislation to support the filter could be introduced six years after it was first mooted.

The government has said mandatory filtering laws will be proposed once a review of the Refused Classification category is completed by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG).

On July 9, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the legislation would be deferred to allow a review of the RC category that underpins the policy.

The RC review is expected to take 12 months.

"SCAG will consider whether to proceed with the review at its (next) meeting and, if they decide to proceed, they will consider the scope and methodology for the review in March 2011," the departmental documents said.

Recommendations would then be provided to SCAG for consideration in early 2012.

"It may then take SCAG a number of meetings before it reaches consensus on any recommendations from the review," the department said. "This suggests legislation for mandatory filtering may not be able to be introduced into Parliament before the middle of 2013."

The SCAG meeting has been postponed several times; the last was pushed from November to December to accommodate the Victorian state election this month.

The department said the millions of dollars set aside to help ISPs push filtering software for adult and other online content had a similar objective to "the former government's free PC filter program which had a very low rate of take-up, with approximately 8000 ongoing users at the time of the program termination on June 30, 2010".

The Australian Communications and Media Authority will receive $400,000 per annum for oversight and review of the RC content list -- the secret blacklist ISPs will use as part of the mandatory filtering program.
According to the heavily redacted documents, the Attorney-General's Department will receive around $5m to review ACMA's decisions in finding a URL to be RC.

The broadband department will receive $840,000 over three years for development of a software tool to assist small and medium ISPs to meet their mandatory filtering obligations.

The country's two largest ISPs will voluntarily block child pornography web pages from mid-2011.
Around 5 million internet users will start receiving a "clean feed'' from Telstra and Optus that will automatically block child pornography URLs.