Internet filtering to become mandatory in Australia


I like living in a country where we have a Federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

I don’t like it when he announces that soon it will become mandatory for Internet Service Providers to provide filtered feeds, as reported by the ABC today- Conroy announces mandatory internet filters to protect children:

Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy says new measures are being put in place to provide greater protection to children from online pornography and violent websites.

Senator Conroy says it will be mandatory for all internet service providers to provide clean feeds, or ISP filtering, to houses and schools that are free of pornography and inappropriate material.

First question to Mr Conroy: How will you do it – technically? What do you have that is unhackable that will only trap kiddie porn and violence and not other sites ? Who gets to decide what is filtered?

Second question to Mr Conroy: Where do I find more information about it? Given that it affects online communities and your job is to understand the digital economy- shouldn’t you make the information available online, not just rely on traditional media such as the Sunday Times (Onus on providers to clean up web content )?

On Monday 31st December at 3pm Western Australian time, there wasn’t a whisper of it on:

UPDATE 1 January 2008: Just to clarify – although there is information available about mandatory filtering when it was ALP policy (as reported in my blog here and here ) , there is none about the “new measures being put in place”. The Minister was implying that it is moving beyond policy – but his online channels were silent about this bit.

21 thoughts on “Internet filtering to become mandatory in Australia

  1. It gets worse. Combine ISP filtering with the newly announced age-restricted internet and mobile content rules ( that come into effect on January 20th. Not only will the net be filtered on an opt-out rather than opt-in basis, but adults and even teens will have to verify their age to view content deemed ‘mature’, and details of the verification process must be stored for two years. The future of free internet in Australia is looking bleak.

  2. I am always amazed that politicians do not quite get it yet! Governments are meant to make the life of citizens easier. The most successful Government is one that you do not hear from until you need something of a regulatory issue.

    The Internet is not something that I want Government help with.

  3. My ISP here in the UK has just instituted a blocklist from the Internet Watch Foundation, which I only found out when my desktop browser was blocked by going to Yahoo profiles with an apparent conflict with the proxy system they are using as part of the blocklist.

    It’s already been commented in the forum thread (,58568.0.html) that anyone that does not want to be filtered, must be for sexual abuse of children. Meanwhile, the only ones being inconvenienced are those innocent bystanders caught up in technical problems.

    I await to see what will be blocked next.

  4. It seems to me you have already made up your mind to condemn the move by the government to introduce a clean feed. So I don’t know why you ask for further information on the subject.

    There has been a massive over-reaction to the announcement by Stephen Conroy. Clean feeds have existed in the UK and and other democratic countries in Europe for years and no-one has had their civil liberties violated or been persecuted as a result.

    I applaud Kevin Rudd and the Labor government for having the guts to clean up the Internet. For too long it’s been a haven for child pornographers and other undesirables and it’s about time something was done about it.

  5. To Deborah Robinson.

    You don’t seem to get it.

    This is not about pornography at all. ANYTHING “deemed” to be above the R18 rating can be put on this blacklist. And it’s only a matter of time before it’s abused.

    If you don’t want your children misusing the internet. DO YOUR JOB AS A PARENT. I am not a parent, I don’t want the government censor my internet content. I don’t want the government forcing the ISP’s to censor my content.

    As for the UK, its become just an abomination to the word freedom. As is Australia.

    How about the creators of violent video games that have been banned in Australia? They have had their unprotected (in Australia) right to free speech violated. As will many internet users now.

    But what can I expect from a simple brainwashed sheep such as yourself? Not any belief in freedom obviously.

  6. Hmmmm. I think your point is valid. I just re-read my original post and it wasn’t quite clear what I was trying to say.

    What I meant was although there is information available about mandatory filtering when it was ALP policy (as reported in my blog) , there is none about the “new measures being put in place”. Many pre-elction policies fade and die, or are implemented in a very different way to that outlined in policy. The Minister was implying that this is moving beyond policy – but his online channels were silent about this bit.

    I’ve added an update to clarify.

  7. Is the filter supposed to block child pornography, all pornography, or all ‘inappropriate material’? Conroy’s already exercising shady rhetorical tricks, such as this quote from the ABC article:

    “If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.”

    He’s muddying the waters to make filtering harder to argue against. By positioning the debate as one in which you’re either for or against child pornography, Conroy wants to ram this one home with a minimum of fuss.

    But there are plenty of legitimate questions:

    – Who decides what will be on the list?
    – Will the list be public?
    – Will mainstream sites such as YouTube be blocked because of the ‘inappropriate material’ that’s sometimes uploaded there?
    – What chilling effects will result when people are unable to access a blocked site but don’t want to opt out because doing so would look suspicious?
    – What right of appeal will blocked websites have?
    – What costs will be associated with filtering? Will these be paid by Australians through higher internet charges, or through higher taxes?
    – Will ISPs with small customer bases find their businesses crippled by extra costs that they are unable to pass on to consumers?- What technologies will underpin the filtering system, and how will they improve upon the incomplete and ineffective systems in use elsewhere?

    A filtering regime will cause the government nothing but pain – especially when it’s broken once again by a 16-year-old boy in half an hour.

  8. Deborah.

    I didn’t address the issue of civil freedoms one way or another, just questioned the technical posibility of making an effective, hack-free filter.

    I don’t think that imposing something unworkable on Internet Service Providers that will choke the speed of the ‘net and increase broadband costs is effective.

    It will give parents a false sense of security – letting in things it is meant to filter out, and stopping sites that are legitimate and useful. Many parents don’t have the tech-savvy to technically understand that filters don’t work. I am very concerned that their response will be a hands-off “it’s filtered, so it’s safe” – and to involve themselves less in knowing what their kids are using the ‘net for and teaching them skills to safely navigate it.

    Those with tech skills – most likely 15 year olds with parents who don’t understand the ‘net – will go outside Australia via proxies and surf away happily.

    It would be nice to have the Internet “cleaned up”, but it is a very big, big, big thing – not really under Mr Rudd’s control in any way.

    As for already making my mind up that I think mandatory internet filtering is a bad thing – yes, I have. Not only for the technical reasons I questioned, but because I work in an industry where we have dealt with “content filtering” issues for much longer than the Internet has existed. My idea of an “educational” book may be your idea of an “offensive” one. Check out the American Library Association’s The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 .

    I agree that child pornography is wrong, bad and evil – but I also know that people vary widely on what they consider to be “child pornography”..and I would rather have an “opt-in” system for those people who trust the government’s definition and want to be protected in the defective way of these policies.

  9. Kathryn, the too hard argument is a bad argument. If we took that argument elsewhere, why bother with having any laws? Ask the police how hard it is to get people to stop speeding.

    And speaking of speed, it’s the ISPs who say it will slow the internet down. Why should we believe them? They don’t want the cost or inconvenience – which they’ll happily pass on anyway.

    And to expect it to be foolproof is just plain mischief making. You’d rather children had total access to porn than limited access?

    And yes, some stuff will get blocked that shouldn’t, but we can improve the system to minimise that. We shouldn’t use that as an excuse not to try.

    You say, “It will give parents a false sense of security”. Well, currently, many parents have the opposite problem where they just don’t have the technical ability to implement something themselves. So at least this helps, and yes it’s not foolproof, but it’s better than nothing.

    And, Thomas, you’re being paranoid. Existing censorship in other mediums hasn’t turned us into a police-state with no freedom of speech.

    And regards parents, how can a parent “Do their job as a parent” when the child is out of their house???

    Fortunately in Australia, we have means to prevent children accessing adult material that DO NOT require the parents to be tagging along with the child. We have other adults ensuring our children are protected. For example, the newsagent won’t sell my kids porn magazines.

    But when it comes to the internet, it is suddenly the responsibility SOLELY of the parents.

    Kathryn, as a librarian, do you take the Thomas’ attitude that it’s up to the parents to “do their job”? So when a kid tries to check out a book you know they shouldn’t be, you figure the parent should be there to stop them, not you, so you let the kid have the book.

    Do TV stations broadcast MA15+ movies at 4:00pm and say “Well, it’s up to the parents to do their job”?

    Censorship is never going to be perfect. Some will think it’s not strong enough, others that it is too strong. But is always better than nothing.

    Access to porn should be a choice, not a given.

  10. apart from the obvious censorship issues, one of my main concerns here is that, as kathryn has pointed out, this type of mandatory filtering could well cause a false sense of security. filters are not infallible – ‘inappropriate’ content will get through.

    moreover, the way i see it, one of the greatest threats to children online lies in interaction with others: bullying on social network sites; inappropriate contact with adults whose intentions are not good; and so on. sure, we may not want our children stumbling across (or seeking out) porn, but what of people who prey on children online?

    will the filtering program be accompanied by some clear messages to parents about the other risks that exist online? will there be an education program that gives parents practical and workable strategies for teaching their children about safe online behaviour? without some concerted effort on this front to accompany filtering, i would be concerned that parental vigilance in teaching their children about safe internet practices might be impacted upon by a perception that a clean feed makes the internet ‘safe’ for children. and this will never be the case – there will always be risks which children must be taught about.

    my other concern relates to the opt-out model. instead of mandatory filtering, why couldn’t ISPs make a clear statement in service contracts asking people to tick a box if they want filtering? i have no objection to people who wish to have their internet content filtered choosing to do so, but i certainly do take issue with blanket filtering which people must make a conscious effort to opt out of. why? some people will simply not realise that opting out is a possibility; some will find the process unnecessarily cumbersome and so will not bother; others will be worried whether their request to opt out will identify them as some kind of delinquent. we’ve railed against website functionalities that have the potential to infringe privacy being based on opt-out policies (for example, the recent hoopla over facebook). i hope there is a similarly loud and clear response to this issue.

    i, too, have made up my mind on the issue of mandatory internet filtering.

  11. All the points have been made, and made well, but let me just add what I believe to be the two key ones, again.

    1. Internet filtering isn’t perfect. What this filtering is more likely to do than anything else is make the parents of children LESS likely to do the right thing in regards to internet security, i.e. actually find out about the various ways the internet can be abused/their children can be exploited or shown ‘innapropriate’ things, and take steps to avoid that because ‘the government is taking care of it’. Having seen the hamfisted attempt to filter school computer content, i’m not too confident in their ability to stop people bypassing the filter, or to get the correct sites blocked.

    2. The opt-out as opposed to the opt-in approach smacks of state censorship, violates privacy, can and will be a headache, interfere with legitimate internet usage, and cause annoyance and inconvenience for every single internet user who doesn’t have children.

  12. Option out would not work in the US. It would be a violation of privacy. Option out provides governments list of people who want to by pass the porn filters, which means they now have a list of people who must want to look at porn. When then becomes a list you can use to target and extort.

    Not sure how big privacy issues are in Australian law. In US Constitution law they are Big.

  13. @chris

    “You’d rather children had total access to porn than limited access?”

    This is wrong. The ISP filter will not provide “limited access” to porn, it will provide complete access (the same access as without a filter) to porn when a user implements any of a range of methods to by-pass said filter. The filter’s only supposed goal would be to prevent accidental exposure to pornography, not willing exposure to pornography. It won’t actually do this very well either.

    “Existing censorship in other mediums hasn’t turned us into a police-state with no freedom of speech.”

    Actually, the internet is the only mass medium that provides relatively free speech. I am quite certain that the internet has had an effect on the religious views of citizens due to the information available to challenge the thinking that leads to the adoption or continuation of these views. To put my paranoid hat on, this may well be one of the reasons filtering of the internet is so desired by governments.

    “And regards parents, how can a parent “Do their job as a parent” when the child is out of their house???”

    I would be worried about my (potential) child being taken on a dangerous joy-ride by his friend’s dad, not the rare accidental exposure to pornography that requires a click on the x in the top right hand corner to make go away.

    “Do TV stations broadcast MA15+ movies at 4:00pm and say “Well, it’s up to the parents to do their job”?”

    Do you even have evidence that watching MA15+ movies is detrimental to a child’s health? I will note that at 8:30pm it is possible to watch someone’s head being lopped off, but not see people engage in a loving activity. Censorship is driven by religion, not rationality. Just because there are current laws, that is not an argument that they are right.

    “Access to porn should be a choice, not a given.”

    It is; don’t use the internet if you cannot handle freedom. Don’t drive a car if you can’t handle the risk of crashing. Alternatively, install a software filter, or only visit porn-free websites. When did you last accidentally see pornography on the internet anyway? You cannot filter out the swear words you might hear as you walk down a street though can you? You cannot shape the entire world to meet your demands. That is what the internet is; people hosting websites on their own terms and you choosing to visit them or not.

    If you find something you dislike on the web, you have this amazing ability to navigate away from the website and never return.

    The most ironic thing of all is that when I was a child, the person so interested in smuggling in pornography was the guy raised in a highly religious family. The atheist and less religious had little thirst for this “banned” material. It seems that banning something makes it more desirable.

    The scariest consequence is that I don’t think it is fully opt-out as some media suggest. I have found quotes of Senator Conroy that suggest it will not be fully opt-out. I think it will be more like the current censorship laws, which let the amca completely ban anything that is deemed offensive to an adult (yes, the classification code is that vague).

    If you can argue (based on evidence and logic, not religion) that the very rare and brief accidental exposure to pornography by children whose parents/schools are unable to install filtering software has a negative affect


    that this warrants the censorship of the entire internet and the information that flows through it by the government with the power to ban anything as suggested under the vague amca classifaction code using filters that may not even achieve their desired goal;

    go for it.

  14. CHILD pornography, simple answer, is wrong. The right action though is to find the perpetrators and gaol them AND not putting the
    rest of us behind the bars of internet filtering. No matter, the filters will be as effective as tits on a bull. Literally, the porn will get to
    you as tits on a bull- bypassing filters quite easily.

    Imagine being born naked. Now imagine that life requires you to gain a knowledge of reality in order to live and enjoy life.
    And now imagine a filter standing between you and reality. A taboo; a restriction; a filter, is an obstacle with deadly consequences
    to every person who chooses to think and act in order to live and enjoy life. The whole universe is open to the power of reason.

    There is no such thing as intellectual radiation exposure that can pervert and or destroy a mind. An image is not a lie. Its the explanation
    of an image that is or is not the soursce of perversion.
    When a child is exposed to porn, they do not yet have the context within which such things make sense. It is of no interest to
    them. The damage from exposure is none existent. It is natural to see a naked human body. They see their own body each
    time they take a shower. The perversion is to imply otherwise, through the prohibition of viewing the human body and or vilification of
    the human sexual act. The implication is these acts are evil. Christians are nortorious of this approach.

    If anything, pornography is a teacher, where parents have failed to teach. Not only have they failed to teach their children the
    beauty of love and the sexual act but actively promote it as simply the function of pro-creation and nothing else. Sex is a dirty
    word. They’ve never discovered love and are damned well going to make sure nobody else does.

    A parents function is to set rules of human behavour for their child and to be a guide to their childs enquiries. Their childs mentor and not
    his intellectual gaoler, not the repressor of their childs psychological development.

    That is the relationship between pornography and parents and children. Don’t parents want to talk about the birds and the bees anymore.
    If left to government, they will tell you birds are an endangered species. Need I go on about the danger of letting government run your life
    for you. That’s what it amount to- clammering for a dictator to step in and take over and run your life. Take over your problems and responsibliities. This generation of parents is morally bankrupt and spineless who wish life was regulated- to spare them the responsiblity of thinking because they have no moral values to pass on to their children; no guidence to offer. They are walking hulks of bitterness,
    applying every snake oil remedy except using their mind to work through a problem or moral issue. Parents, simple answer, braindead.

  15. I think filtering is pointless and is more trouble than whats it worth a person should be able to access what they want weather the rest of there world deems distasteful.

  16. This guy Conroy is just a sick bloke who understands nothing in the Internet, freedom of speech, etc. Moreover, he is a maniac. Pity that Rudd’s goverment has sich idiots and supports them. Hopefully even in case if that government gives money to people who do not deserve that money at all hoping those people would give their votes, in the next elections we will filter this goverment out of this country. They were saying nice words before elections but the reality proves they have different things in mind. I do not want my country to become a communist China and I do not want someone to decide what is appropriate for me to read in the Internet. Shame we have such a government.

  17. Are the Liberals supporting this? Well they can’t go against it really since Labor has the lower house but the main problem is that if the Liberals support it, It’ll easily go past the upper house as well. Main thing for Liberals to do if they go against it is to try to get the Greens on their side as the Nationals are already on their side. All you need is the Liberals and 2 minor parties to go against the Labor Government and it’ll never go through.
    The main points that I was going to say have been discussed. It is very horrible that they introducing such a filter for a handful of people. The filter won’t do much against Peer to Peer Networking and the culprits will just use that instead. Don’t get me wrong, Child Porn is wrong as hell but let the Police do their job. They’ve already got the Iinet precedent making sure that ISPs can be judge, jury and executioner (I oppose to that decision).
    The only countries with a nationwide filter are mainly communist countries such as China, North Korea and Cuba. Britain and U.S tried it but scrapped it very quickly. Howard previously scrapped the same thing even when he had control of the senate.
    Rudd is obviously making sure that Labor will never get elected again.

  18. This will suck. It will be like China! Those bastards who are in favor of this filtering idea are absolute dicks. They should be tied to a flag pole and then cut using chainsaws. Then of course pour sulfuric acid on the remains. Then to clean that up you can simply obliterate the mess by dropping an atomic bomb on the remains.

    Attention Rudd and Conroy:

    Are you two bastards listening? Hello? Fuck off and leave the Internet alone, mate! I don’t need my Internet speeds slowed down by 85%+ just because you two dicks want to filter the Internet for the whole of Australia.

    Go back to being politicians, not IT professional wannabes. You two are no good at it.

  19. This will suck. It will be like China! Those bastards who are in favor of this filtering idea are absolute dicks. They should be tied to a flag pole and then cut using chainsaws. Then of course pour sulfuric acid on the remains. Then to clean that up you can simply obliterate the mess by dropping an atomic bomb on the remains.

    Attention Rudd and Conroy:

    Are you two bastards listening? Hello? Fuck off and leave the Internet alone, mate! I don’t need my Internet speeds slowed down by 85%+ just because you two dicks want to filter the Internet for the whole of Australia.

    Go back to being politicians, not IT professional wannabes. You two are no good at it.

What do you think? Let us know.