By Amy Coopes (AFP) – Dec 15, 2009
SYDNEY — Australia said Tuesday it would push ahead with a mandatory China-style plan to filter the Internet, despite widespread criticism that it will strangle free speech and is doomed to fail.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said new laws would be introduced to ban access to "refused classification" (RC) sites featuring criminal content such as child sex abuse, bestiality, rape and detailed drug use.
Blacklisted sites would be determined by an independent classification body via a "public complaint" process, said Conroy, admitting there was "no silver bullet solution to cyber-safety".
Internet user groups, the pornography industry and others have strongly opposed the plan, saying any such measure would be impractical to enforce, block access to some legitimate websites and slow down Internet speeds.
But Conroy said a seven-month trial had concluded that blocking could be done with 100 percent accuracy and negligible impact to connection speeds.
Internet service providers (ISPs) would be offered grants to offer additional filters of, for example, X-rated content and gambling sites, but Conroy said that would not be compulsory.
"Through a combination of additional resources for education and awareness, mandatory Internet filtering of RC-rated content, and optional ISP-level filtering, we have a package that balances safety for families and the benefits of the digital revolution," he said.
While Australia is not alone in moving to censor online content, experts question the proposed filter's scope and ethical ramifications.
It is potentially the first among Western democracies to mandate internet filtering through formal legislation.
Online rights group Electronic Frontiers Australia said there were grave censorship questions about what would be blocked, and who would decide.
"What we're talking about is a filter that can only intercept accidental access to prohibited material," said spokesman Colin Jacobs.
"Any motivated user will be able to get around it, it will be quite easy, so who is this being targeted at?"
The Greens party said it was deeply concerned about the open-ended nature of the filter, dubbing it the "thin end of the wedge" for censorship.
The centre-left Labor party does not hold a majority in the upper house and will need the Greens vote to pass the laws, which will be introduced to parliament in August 2010.
In July Beijing abruptly postponed a plan to install Internet filtering software on all computers sold in China after a storm of protest.
But the communist government maintains broad Internet censorship under a system of controls dubbed the "Great Firewall of China".
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