Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Long time coming

OK so I've been quiet a while. In the meantime Stephen Conroy has completed his "filtering" trials and come out with a policy.

He seems to have addressed all the myths and fear mongering on the topic.

Most importantly the technical report showed that filtering a defined short list of adresses (URLs) can be achieved reasonably accurately without serious impact on network performance. On the subject of what to exclude he has announced that it will be limited to Refused Classification material, that is, imported online content will be subject to the same restrictions as imported content on paper or a disc. This is not creeping censorship, it is making the same rules apply everywhere.

The list is therefore not the same as the infamous ACMA "black list". It will be constructed using public complaints and international co-operation to identify the most egregious sites. What's more he has listened to concens about secret censorship and proposed a process of public scrutiny of the list.

Finally he has heard the concerns about the absence of an R18+ category for games and has commenced a process to seek to introduce that classification, and at the same time has stated that these games will be not included on the list of refused classification sites to be blocked.

In addition to the mandated filtering he has recognised that there are end-users who don't feel confidant in their ability to maintain their own filters. He will introduce a program to assist ISPs in offering an opt-in network based filter that goes beyond the mandated filter.

This looks like a sensible policy that goes no further than tries to apply the same rules to web content a are applied to other content. It is a policy based on testing of solutions and with appropriate puiblic safeguards. It is a policy that makes the fear-mongers in the internet community look somewhat foolish. As an example, how much of the discussion was about the blacklist and how it was constructed even after Conroy made it clear the policy would only apply to RC?

Will it work? Yes and no. It will stop people accessing certain sites through simple web browsing. It will not stop the the internet being used to "import" refused classification material. It is a proportionate response.

Do gun control laws stop death by gunshot? No, but they do severely limit it and make Australia a safer place.

Acknowledgement should be made of the contributions of Telstra, Optus, Primus and iiNet in working with the Government in developing this scheme. This is a refreshing change from an industry normally best noted for taking no responsibility for its products and making assumptions about the abilities of customers that are not conected to reality.


  1. A few corrections are in order.

    Firstly Senator Stephen Conroy is NOT Minister for Censorship in the current government. It was the Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor who released what purports to be a discussion paper on the R18+ classification after a long delay. It was his counterpart Bob Debus (ex Minister for Home Affairs) who suggested a discussion paper regarding an R18+ rating for computer games.

    Secondly the Prohibited Import Regulations to the Customs Act do NOT prohibit Refused Classification material. They don't even mention the Classification System but suggest that material can be only be a prohibited import if it fails tests of morality, decency and propriety to the extent that such material should not be imported.

    Similar wording applies to Classification Law. Material can only be refused classification to the extent that such material should not be classified.

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