Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) is appalled by Friday's announcement that the federal Coalition government will force all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Australia to provide 'filtered' Internet connections upon request. This 'initiative' is nothing more than a tiresome repeat of previously announced and abandoned policies, and comes before the government has even conducted their recently-announced feasibility study of ISP-level filtering.

The government has also failed to implement their National Filter Scheme, first announced in June 2006 and aimed at providing free PC-based filters, and they have now announced it once again. The Minister has no credibility in this matter.

'Internet censorship to "save the children" has always been a political "free kick" for both sides of politics,' said EFA Chair Dale Clapperton. 'It seems that in the lead-up to the federal election, the Howard government wants to be seen to be "doing something" to make the Internet safe for children.'

'In Internet censorship, everything old is new again. This announcement is a rehash of a Labor rehash of a discredited Howard government policy; and when Labor rehashed it, Senator Coonan rightly denounced it as being a waste of money.'

'Unfortunately, ISP based filtering will not make the Internet safe for children, and may even cause harm in and of itself. If parents are deceived into believing that a "filtered" Internet service is safe for children, they will be less likely to take sensible precautions such as supervising their children while they use the Internet.'

Where filtering is necessary, EFA has always endorsed the use of filters by the end user, since they provide at least some level of control over content, and can be customised to the particular needs of each family. 'Parents need to ask themselves what criteria will be used to filter these services,' Clapperton continued.

'ISP-based filtering is a blunt instrument, based on the assumption that one size fits all, the government knows best, and end users have absolutely no control over what material has been censored. Only parents can decide what content is appropriate for their children.'

'A requirement to provide filtered services will impose significant up-front and ongoing costs on all Australian ISPs. It will also expose them to legal liability when the filters inevitably fail to block inappropriate material. These costs will be passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices for Internet access.'

The proposal would also likely cause a significant reduction in the speed of Internet access. 'Coming so soon after the Government announced its $1 billion project to improve the speed of regional broadband access, and at a time when Telstra and the G9 consortium are fighting to build a fibre-to-the-node network in built up areas, this announcement, which threatens to reduce the speed of Internet access for all Australians, could not have come at a worse time.'

'We are also gravely concerned that this announcement is merely the thin end of the wedge. Once the government-mandated infrastructure is in place at all ISPs to supply this "opt-in" filtering, it is a very small step to change it to an "opt-out" system, or even a system where each and every Internet connection is censored by the ISP, whether the customer wants it or not.'

'Right-wing religious groups have long campaigned for blanket censorship of Internet content at an ISP level,' said Clapperton. 'But Australians generally are opposed to excessive government control, and we believe they will see through this latest announcement as little more than a cheap political stunt,' Clapperton concluded.
-- Ends --

Below is:
- Background information
- Contact details for media

Background:

SMH article on the announcement:
http://www.smh.com.au/news/web/veto-for-parents-on-web-content/2007/08/09/1186530535350.html

SMH article containing commentary from ISPs on the announcement:
http://www.theage.com.au/news/web/isplevel-filters-unworkable/2007/08/10/1186530595566.html

Media release from Senator Coonan:
http://www.minister.dcita.gov.au/media/media_releases/netalert_-_protecting_australian_families_online

About EFA:

Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc. ("EFA") is a non-profit national organisation representing Internet users concerned with on-line rights and freedoms. EFA was established in 1994, is independent of government and commerce, and is funded by membership subscriptions and donations from individuals and organisations with an altruistic interest in promoting online civil liberties.

Media Contact:

Mr Dale Clapperton
EFA Chair
Phone: 0416 007 100
Email: dclapperton at efa.org.au

Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc -- https://www.efa.org.au/

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