Australian government plans to censor net content

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Internet freedom may be to be under threat in Australia when the new Labour government introduces censorship guidelines to combat child pornography and violent websites.

The government has announced plans to restrict and block inappropriate content and provide a censored version of the internet.

Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy said: “The government policy applies to computers in homes, schools and libraries and targets pornography and ultra-violent sites.

“These will be identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and blocked by internet service providers (ISPs).”

But many are concerned about the threat to civil liberties the new policy poses.

“One would have thought it should have been the other way around,” Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said, according to the Sydney Star Observer.

“If as a parent you’re worried about your children accessing adult porn, then you would ring up and get the filter put in place.”

Opposition communications spokesman Bruce Bilson has denounced the move, calling it a “headline-chasing proposal that lacks the hard work needed to bring forward a thoughtful plan.”

He also highlighted that filter technology is known to be flawed as it creates decline in network performance while being relatively easy to circumvent.

In 2006, a study carried out for the former communications minister Helen Coonan revealed that ISP-level filters cut network speeds by up to 78 per cent and were inaccurate and expensive.

The UK model provided by British Telecom, which Senator Conroy referred to as a success, was cracked by Cambridge researchers just last week.

The Senator said that the policy did, however, include other measures as well.

“This includes education programmes for parents and teachers as well as children, home-based filters, greater resourcing for policing illegal content, establishment of a youth advisory group on cyber-safety issues, and further Australian research into the changing digital landscape,” he said.

He also added that ACMA would complete a trial period on all aspects of filtering by the end of June.

The 2006 study estimated that setting up the system would cost $79 million (£35.4m) as well as an additional minimum $34 million a year to run.