The Filter Is Dead: Australian Government Dumps Controversial Filtering Project [Updated]

Almost three years ago now, Senator Stephen Conroy stepped up to the plate to deliver a bold new vision. A vision of a filtered, "safer" internet. The plan was met by hostility from internet rights activists, poiticians, internet users, internet service providers and interest groups alike. Tonight, however, the Labor government's proposed mandatory internet filter is dead.

From the get-go, we made our feelings known about the government's plan to filter the internet, and neither was the broader population of Australia's internet users.

The original filter proposition, aired in a 2007 paper on how Labor would ensure the safety of kids online, would have seen the government impose a mandatory "clean feed" on Austraian internet users:

Way back when Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister, this was the plan:

A Rudd Labor Government will require ISPs to offer a ‘clean feed’ internet service to all homes, schools and public internet points accessible by children, such as public libraries. Labor’s ISP policy will prevent Australian children from accessing any content that has been identified as prohibited by ACMA, including sites such as those containing child pornography and X-rated material. Labor will also ensure that the ACMA black list is more comprehensive. It will do so, for example, by liaising with international agencies such as Interpol, Europol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and ISPs to ensure that adequate online protection is provided to Australian children and families.

That ACMA blacklist turned out to contain some of the worst of the worst sites on the internet, including but not restricted to child pornography sites and other high-impact content. The list was leaked in 2009, although the government never admitted that it was the actual list. The most concerning thing about the leaked list was the presence of several sites not pertaining to high-impact content that would offend children. A dentist website, for example, was one of the results. That gave way to suspicions that the blacklist wasn't entirely infallible.

Add to that the fact that the content set to be filtered was constantly under debate. Would the filter block gambling sites? BDSM or bondage material or so-called "golden showers" as Senator Conroy himself discussed during the filter back-and-forth? We'll never really know for sure.

Never missing a chance to leap on a popular issue, the Federal Opposition said that they would oppose the filter and everything that it stood for. High-profile members of the IT and business community came out to oppose the filter. In August 2010, Conroy admitted to ARN that the filter would likely never make it through the parliament.

All had been quiet on the filter front for a few months, as Conroy continued to promise "surprises" when it came to the clean feed proposal.

As Conroy and the government quietly worked away on a carefully calculated retreat plan, three internet service providers were working to implement a filter of their own. The ISPs, including Optus and Telstra, worked to deploy a filter that would block the Interpol blacklist — a list containing the very worst and most objectionable material ever to hit the internet.

And yet as the deployment of the Interpol filter came and went, nobody made a sound, nor a protest, nor an angry letter. Nobody cared that child porn was going to be blocked, people cared when they thought it might be more.

Snap back to present day, and Conroy's office has just issued a statement saying that it will walk away from mandatory internet filtering, and instead urge ISPs to implement the same Interpol filter that ISPs like Telstra and Optus are already running. The statement isn't live online just yet, but according to the outlets Conroy gave it to ahead of time, the new filtering regime will cover 90 per cent of the population, based on the ISPs that have already agreed to come on board with the plan.

The government isn't giving ISPs a choice, either. It's using a section of the Telecommunications Act to compel ISPs to comply with the Interpol blacklist. According to ZDNet, iiNet is one of the ISPs that is already on board.

Update: Conroy has just released his statement regarding the filter to the wider press. Here's a few interesting quotes from Conroy himself.

Blocking the INTERPOL 'worst of' list meets community expectations and fulfils the government’s commitment to preventing Australian internet users from accessing child abuse material online, Senator Conroy said. Given this successful outcome, the Government has no need to proceed with mandatory filtering legislation.
In 2010, the Government announced that the Australian Law Reform Commission would review the refused classification category, after community concern that it didn’t reflect community standards.
Following public consultation, the ALRC recommended in February 2012 that refused classification should be narrowed into a prohibited content category, which includes illegal content like child abuse material.
In line with this recommendation, Australia’s largest ISPs have been issued with notices requiring them to block these illegal sites in accordance with their obligations under theTelecommunications Act 1997. Telstra and Optus agreed to block the INTERPOL list in 2010, with the Australian Federal Police subsequently issuing the relevant notices. They have reported that this has had no impact on internet speeds or congestion and they have had no reports of people being denied access to legitimate web content.
I welcome the support of Australia’s major ISPs and the Internet Industry Association for taking appropriate steps to meet their lawful obligations. This means that more than 90% of Australians using internet services will have child abuse material blocked by their ISP.

For the full statement, head here.

So that's it. Australia's mandatory internet filter is finally — as the Coalition put it — dead, buried and cremated.


Comments

    So I guess this means Labor supports child porn for all Australians?

      No it simply means that they've finally realized what most countries have, that top down filtering doesn't work. Money invested in an Internet filter is far better spent on improving resources for law enforcement to tackle this.

        *whoosh* <-- the sound of the joke going over your head

        This was basically the argument they used for anybody opposed to the filter.

          Yeah @samd, ya reckon. Meh, have seen many ACL whiners use that argument I was just plain sick of it this morning. Especially as a first post.

          Aren't jokes suppose to be funny? was that abstract humour?

      Let me guess your a member of the ACL as well?
      Just so it's clear. NO. The government DOES NOT support child porn?
      Have your got that now?
      Good.

        http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/australiatalks/internet-filtering-with-minister-for/3118576
        Listen from 47 minutes in, onwards.
        Conroy said (in reply to a comment about opting in) something along the lines of,...we don't let people by child porn magazines, why should the internet be any different

        A bit of a change of tune.

          Ummm what?
          How is blocking known Internet sites that have child pornography material a change of tune?
          Isn't that exactly what they have done in this case?
          The issue has never been the access to child pornography. That us just a misdirection by right wing nut jobs like the ACL.
          The issue has always been the scope of the censorship. Extending it o RC material would see sites that were LEGAL being blocked. Also there was never any clarity on what would be blocked under these guidelines. This way they block only the child pornography material which is a win for everyone.

            There were 3 main issues with the filter.
            1. Huge use of tax payer money
            2. Who decides what is going on the list?
            3. Slows down the internet.

            As for 2, I don't think it was made just to deal with illegal pornography, I'm pretty sure it was to give some actual power to censor international sites with RC material within our jurisdiction (as currently, there is no real way of making foreign sites/hosts remove content). Assuming some crazy nutjob didn't just go around censoring everything that conflicts with their own moral agenda (the classification rules are pretty broad and open to individual interpretation), I can't say I'm really against that, but I was a bit worried it would bump into issues with certain sites, particularily user driven content sites, where some material would be infringing while the majority would not. Censoring such sites could lead to a real issue with internet/technological evolution.

            Last edited 09/11/12 10:39 am

        You clearly didn't get the joke.
        Some idiot, I don't know if it was anyone who was actually part of the labour party. Said on the tv "if you don't support the filter, you support child porn", back when it was first raised as an issue.

      Lol, that's the first thing I thought of too.
      I hope someone calls them out on it on the news/media, but I doubt it.

      Hah you got creamed on the ratings there. People obviously haven't stopped and realised that Conroy just kept on carrying on with child porn ... as in - 'Oh you don't agree with me, you obviously like child porn'. That or there's a lot of Labor voters lurking in the shadows of Gizmodo.

    Wait, what you just said there wasn't that the idea of filtering is out of the window, but that the government IS mandating that the ISPs have to filter the internet based on the interpol blacklist. All that does is do away with the idea of Australia managing the filtering. It still involves implementing filtering software that if I remember rightly, was proven to slow internet speeds drastically.

      No not really. There is a big difference between blocking a small list of sites and filtering the whole internet and blocking RC material.

      It's not a 'filter' in the sense most people would think, it just uses dummy entries in the ISP's DNS server, so when someone tries initially to connect to http://www.filthy-stuff.com the DNS returns the IP address of a dummy site like http://Stephen-Conroys-Biography.com, it doesn't slow anything else down at all. Of course any idiot can bypass it by changing their ISP supplied DNS servers in their router with something else.

      The Govt. is "urging" ISP's to implement the Interpol filter. Not mandating it. Big difference.
      Also most ISP grade network equipment have filtering ability that doesn't slow the network. Have you noticed the network slow down on Telstra or Optus? Has anyone??? They have been filtering for a long time now and Telstra have released stats on the number of times it's blocked a site.

        Actually

        "The government isn’t giving ISPs a choice, either. It’s using a section of the Telecommunications Act to compel ISPs to comply with the Interpol blacklist. According to ZDNet, iiNet is one of the ISPs that is already on board."

        So it's not a voluntary thing.

          http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/business-it/lessons-learnt-in-data-retention-law-20120910-25oap.html#ixzz2BftYhJB0

          I see now. But I don't any evidence that it's effected anyone, apart from the obvious of not displaying INTERPOL listed sites.

    Finally came to their senses and realised it wasn't the vote winner they thought it was.
    Makes the who NBN thing look less visionary and more like luck.

    I wonder how long it'll be before the opposition pick up the filter idea now that Labour's done with?

      No luck here.
      Fixed fibre insfrastructure all the way to the premise is a lame duck in the mid- long-term.

      The best solution would still be to run fibre to the street, then femtocells to cover ALL digital content over the last 100 metres. Reduce the number of trenched and hung cables by 80%, reduce infrastructure scaling and upgrade costs by 80% into the future.

      Your connection becomes virtual, and the same numbers/endpoints can travel, and stay with you as long as, and wherever you want them - anywhere... mobile, fixed, data, voice, media, anything.

      The only thing wrong with this, is that political cronies can't make a bucket of cash.

        So you propose a network of "femtocells" spaced apart by 200m?
        You're still going to run fibre past 80% of houses then!

        I'm not a telecommunications engineer, but that sounds a bit like building a freeway bridge to within a meter of the end, covering the gap with planks and saying "It's cheaper and upgradeable!"

    Now that we've finally got a common sense approach on this, more work needs to be done on expanding the optional filter options and getting better consumer awareness. The ACMA need to help work on voluntary self-classification for websites and mobile games and the like - I'd happily chuck a classification meta tag on the websites I built if it made home filtering options run smoother.

    Well, that makes it easier to not chance giving the LibNats my vote. Of course I'm in a Labor safe-seat, but oh well.

    So how is this different exactly? Other than that it's multiple government bodies making the decisions? Is there an appeals procedure or anything for the Interpol list or is it guaranteed to be literally the worst parts of the internet and not just hacked websites etc?

    Does this mean that we're now all perverts since we've been opted out? Because opting out of the clean feed meant we were monsters right?

      lmao, love it. I guess you are right, honestly though how many people even remember what this was all about.

      Don't know about you but I am!
      And proud of it! :P

    "Reckon those nerds to vote for Labor next year?"
    "Well they want our NBN, but don't want our internet filter, they're pretty conflicted."
    "Oi Conroy, kill the filter, and stop letting your 3 year old changing all your iPhone settings get on the news!"

    As long as some politicians, lawyers and lobbyists made their retirement nest-egg... it's fair game. That's what 21st century capitalism is all about. Stop whingeing.

    Read between the lines people. Who's building the NBN? All that has been done is the filter will now be done by the wholesale arm not the ISP.

    I think you forgot to add the "long live the filter" to the end of the title!
    The filter is dead, but we're getting a different (more palateable) one

    NEWSFLASH! - Conroy gets it wrong again. Population remains unsurprised.
    Thanks for wasting all our money on that BS senator!

    But then there's always this: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/11/conroys-filter-is-dead-but-a-new-evil-is-gathering-strength/

      Ah yes ... the ole "internalising the observer" self-censorship trick. Works almost every time.

    Gotta love good news on a Friday morning!

    Has there been any studies on how the interpol filter will effect speeds on the network ?

    Also if the interpol filter is secret couldn't we have the same problem as the acma blacklist ?

    Under the pretence of "caring" the Nanny state couldn't quite convince the peasants that this turd could have been picked up by the clean end

    I told you so, but you would not listen. Predicted the demise of this several years ago but no-one listens to me even though I am always right! I thought I was wrong one, back in 1952, but I was right.

    This is a good outcome - my issue was that a huge amount of taxpayer money would have been used on this when there are many more important things that require funding.

    Using the ISPs to block child porn is a good measure to have in place and achieves the same fundamental outcome.

      Unfortunately there is no end to the ability of the Aust Government, labour libs or greens to burn money faster than it can be printed on futile and meaningless agendas

    Their mistake was saying they were going to block all porn not just child porn... and seriously come on... blocking porn on the internet? it's like allowing a brothel to stay in business just so the girls can smile at customers.

    "From the get-go, we made our feelings known about the government’s plan to filter the internet, and neither was the broader population of Australia’s internet users. "

    Neither was the broader population of Australia's internet users... what?

    Seriously, read your copy back before you publish it.

    Oh, and the word you're looking for is "infallible" not "unfallible". A simple spell check would have taken care of that. It's hard to take your writing seriously when you can't even spell.

    Does anyone know what they spent on another thing that's not going to work?

    I'd really want to know how much money of the taxpayers backpocket was wasted on this idea rolling around for a few years, the various small tests they did of this filter, and developing its protocols. Any one know?

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