The Australian Federal Government has announced that it will introduce "mandatory ISP-level filtering of Refused Classification (RC) rated content." What this means is that Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will now have to filter the Internet to block access to websites that would be "Refused Classification" under Australia's classification laws.
The filter will be based on blocking a list of between 1,000 and 10,000 web page addresses (“URLs”). That list is called a ‘blacklist’.
This list of URLs will be maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and will be added to by lists from overseas groups that make their own lists (such as the Internet Watch Foundation).
RC computer games will be left out from mandatory filtering until the end of a review on how computer games are classified.
The government has plans to give money to ISPs that want to volunteer to filter even more.
The list of pages that will be blocked is only a tiny fraction of the material on the internet that may be thought harmful to children. A mandatory filter can’t address the most inappropriate content, and in any case the government could never make a list that was acceptable to all parents.
The filter will not target X-rated pornography, which most parents wouldn’t want their children to view.
In addition, the filter will do nothing to protect children from what parents are really concerned about, things like cyber-bullying, online predators, viruses, spam or the identity theft. It might also provide a false sense of security to parents, reducing effective monitoring of their children's online activities.
The biggest risks that children face online are not exposure to inappropriate content, but inappropriate contact with others. In order to protect children online, EFA would like to see:
The proposed filter will only filter normal web-surfing activity (or "HTTP" websites). Not only will it be completely simple to get around the filter for anyone who wants to, but it won’t be able to stop the distribution of illegal child abuse material on private underground networks, where that sort of material is traded.
In order to address concerns about the exploitation of children, more investment is required in police investigations which are able to infiltrate the secretive groups where this child abuse material is distributed and charge those who are creating and sharing it.
Material that is 'refused classification' (RC) includes much more than child abuse material.
The National Classification Code defines what material is to be Refused Classification in Australia. The code states that the Classification Board must refuse to classify films, publications, and computer games that:
The Code also states that all computer games that are unsuitable for a minor to see or to play are to be refused classification.
The only material that is illegal to possess in Australia is child sexual abuse material. In all States and Territories except for Western Australia and certain parts of the Northern Territory, it is legal for adults to view and own material that has been refused classification. Australia's classification regime has always been about empowering adults to make appropriate choices and only restricting the public sale and demonstration of RC material. The filter, however, will try to prevent all Australians from accessing, rather than selling, prohibited material.
Based on previous decisions of the Classification Board, things that would be blocked include:
Items that have been banned because they "promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence" include things like:
The Internet does not work in a way that would let a filter be effective, and the World Wide Web contains far more content than could ever be effectively rated by a Government organisation. The technical problems include:
Although the plan is intended and marketed as a tool to help protect children from the dangers of the Internet, this scheme raises some troubling issues that affect all Australians. As a source of daily information, the Internet increases in importance every day. Do we really want the Government of the day deciding what Australian adults can and can't see? Do we want Australia to join a censorship club in which Burma, China and North Korea are the founding members?
The list of prohibited sites will be secret, so it will be impossible to know what content the Government has effectively banned.
Filtering will be required in all homes, even where there are no children.
It is unknown whether there will be any way to have content removed from the prohibited list.
How far will the list go? Will it filter out material on sexual health, drug use, or movie piracy?
Even if mandatory Internet filtering worked, it would still be a bad idea. It will not protect children from dangerous content and contact, while at the same time failing to prevent criminals from accessing and distributing child abuse material. It will also block access to material that is legal for adults to possess and view.
The money that the Government would spend on this impractical plan is simply better spent elsewhere. The filter will cost tens of millions of dollars to build and even the Government's own studies admit that education works better than filtering for protecting kids.
Australians do not support an expensive censorship policy that doesn’t make sense.
Australians support an Open Internet that lets individuals decide what they view online.
Australians support an Open Internet that trusts parents to monitor what their kids view online.
If you support an Open Internet, learn what action you can take here.