(AFP) – Jan 1, 2008
SYDNEY (AFP) — An Australian government plan to filter the Internet Wednesday drew criticism from privacy advocates who said it represented the start of state censorship.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, a member of the Labor team which ousted conservative prime minister John Howard in a November election, wants filters in place to shield children from online porn and violence.
Under the plan, Internet service providers would provide feeds filtered free of pornography and other inappropriate material to houses and schools.
Conroy has rejected criticism that the move will debase the freedom of the world wide web and represents a step towards the kind of Internet censorship in place in China where sites are regularly blocked and cyberdissidents arrested.
"Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation of the Internet is like going down the Chinese road," he told national radio on Monday.
"If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor government is going to disagree."
But chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation Roger Clarke said the plan would not only be ineffective but could have substantial side-effects.
"Many pages will end up getting blocked that shouldn't be blocked," he told AFP. "We don't need that, we need an open Internet."
Clarke said it was the role of parents and guardians, not the government, to protect children from inappropriate material.
"It's not the government's business to control information flows," he said.
"That's the kind of thing that goes on in oppressive countries, in authoritarian countries.
"That's not what the government is there to do."
Peter Coroneos, spokesman for the Internet Industry Association, said providers were already providing free filters and the industry was unsure whether the plan would work.
"At the moment we don't know what the extent of it will be, what it will cost, and whether it will set a precedent for other changes.
"We just don't know if it is feasible," he told Sydney's Daily Telegraph.
Conroy said Internet users would be able to access uncensored material by opting out of the service and that the government would work with industry to ensure the filters did not slow down the service.
"There are people who are going to make all sorts of statements about the impact on the speed," he said.
"But that is why we are engaged constructively with the sector, engaging in trials to find a way to implement this in the best possible way and to work with the sector."
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