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Rudd's 'clean web' plan criticised
Internet porn filters would slow connections and infringe rights, critics say.
Last Modified: 02 Jan 2008 17:22 GMT
Rudd has promised to introduce filters to protect children and to also increase internet speed [EPA]
A plan by the new Australian government to censor pornography and violence on the web has been criticised by industry and civil liberties groups.
 
The plan to force service providers to implement filters will reduce access speeds and erode political freedoms, taking Australia "in the same direction as China and Singapore", critics have said.
Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister who was swept to power in November, had pledged during his election campaign to introduce the filters to protect children and provide an internet free of "inappropriate" material to homes and schools.
But his campaign also included pledges to speed up internet connections in Australia, where connection speeds are often well below other advanced economies.
 
The country's internet industry said one goal would be achieved at the expense of the other.
 
Blacklist
 
"If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor government is going to disagree"

Stephen Conroy, communications minister
The government has said the so-called clean feed - expected to go on trial this year - will be achieved by getting the communications and media authority to prepare a blacklist of unsuitable sites.
 
But Peter Coroneos, a spokesman for the Internet Industry Association, said that trying to put millions of pornographic websites on the blacklist would result in "a potential for slow downs in access".
 
"The more sites you attempt to block the greater the effect on the network performance and speed," he told The Australian newspaper, explaining that every time a request is made on a search engine, it will have to be checked against all the sites on the blacklist.
 
He also warned that the filters would not be able to identify and block pornographic sites that were not on the blacklist.
 
"You've got to be aware of the fallibility of the approach," he said.
 
False security
 
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties went further, calling the plan a "gimmick" that would lull parents into a false sense of security and discourage them from monitoring their children's internet activities.
 
"What is dangerous about these filters is that parents will think their children can't access pornography on the internet when in fact … anybody who's computer-savvy can work their way around these filters in about two minutes maximum," David Bernie, the council's vice-president, said.
 
The government's move also had "serious implications for freedom of expression", he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
 
Australia's internet industry said a home based
filter system would work better [AP]
"When you start filtering material on political grounds - even if the material is objectionable or quite awful - we're heading in the same direction as China and Singapore."
 
Under the government plan, residents who want unfettered access to the web will have to contact their service provider to opt out of the censoring service.  
 
"Will there be some database of people who want to access adult pornography, which is legal in most democratic countries?" Bernie asked.
 
Australia's Information Minister, Stephen Conroy, countered that "Labor makes no apologies to those who argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road".
 
"If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor government is going to disagree."
 
Conroy also pointed to European examples of successful restrictions to quell fears the move could slow connection speeds.
 
Pointing out that Britain and Scandinavia had successful internet restrictions, he said: "The internet hasn't ground to a halt in the UK, it hasn't ground to a halt in Scandinavian countries and it's not grinding the internet to a halt in Europe."
 
But less than 1,000 child pornography sites are on Britain's blacklist and a 2005 pilot study carried out by the former Howard government found a clean feed approach could cut down internet access speed by up to 78 per cent.
 
Helen Coonan, Conroy's predecessor, rejected filtering because she said it would slow speeds for all users without effectively protecting children.
 
Australian internet service providers said households that wanted to block out pornographic material would be better off investing in a home-based filter system rather than rely on the clean feed plan.
Source:
Agencies
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