Net censorship trial report brings more questions than answers

Electronic Frontiers Australia today welcomed the release of the Government’s Internet filtering report but predicted that the debate is far from over.

“There are few surprises in this document,” said EFA spokesperson Colin Jacobs. “Given the pilot’s modest goals, it was designed from the beginning to pass. Although it may address some technical issues, what it leaves out is far more important – exactly what will be blocked, who will decide, and why is it being attempted in the first place?”

The report found that generally, ISPs were able to block a government-provided blacklist of several thousand web sites without a major impact on service levels. It also found that circumvention was trivial for motivated users, calling the effectiveness of the proposal into question.

The report indicated that there were costs associated with filtering, which would hit smaller ISPs the hardest. The expected costs for Australian Internet users were not addressed in the report, nor were other alternatives such as increasing support for home-based filters. Although several ISPs also tested filtering beyond the government blacklist, the report finds they were only 84% accurate in the best case.

It’s not unexpected that the censorship proved technically possible. EFA notes that, since the election, the government’s “cyber-safety” plan has shifted away from providing tools to shield minors on the web to a black list of “almost exclusively RC (Refused Classification)” content aimed at adults.

“The Government knows this plan will not help Australian kids, nor will it aid in the policing of prohibited material. Given the problems in maintaining a secret blacklist and deciding what goes on it, we’re at a loss to explain the Minister’s enthusiasm for this proposal,” said Jacobs.

“We’ll be interested to see how the Internet service providers respond. We know they are critical of having such intrusive Government interference in their networks,” he added.

Although the minister has hailed the pilot a success, many concerns about the proposal remain ignored. Neither draft legislation nor a comprehensive policy document have yet been released to the Australian public, though legislation is expected in 2010.

“Successful technology isn’t necessarily successful policy. We’re yet to hear a sensible explanation of what this policy is for, who it will help, and why it is worth spending so much taxpayers’ money on.”

– Ends –


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 Contacts:

Mr Colin Jacobs
EFA Vice-Chair
Phone: 0402 631 955
Email: cjacobs at

Mr Geordie Guy
EFA Board Member
Phone: 0415 797 142
Email: gguy at