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(Dec 30, 2009) On December 15, 2009, Australia's Minister of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Hon. Stephen Conroy, announced that the government intends to introduce legislation by mid-2010 requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block overseas content given a Refused Classification (RC) rating. (Press Release, Hon. Stephen Conroy, Measures to Improve Safety of the Internet for Families (Dec. 15, 2009), available at http://www.minister.dbcde.gov.au/media/media_releases/2009/115.)

The proposal follows a live trial of ISP-level filtering conducted earlier this year. A report on the trial has been released and shows that the filtering of a defined list of websites can be conducted with 100% accuracy, with negligible impact on Internet speed. (Id.)

RC-rated material includes child sex-abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence (including rape), and detailed instructions on drug use or on committing crimes. The hosting of such material on Australian websites is currently prohibited and can be subject to "take-down" notices. The government's proposal will mean that a list of websites hosted overseas that have RC-rated content will be blocked by Australian ISPs. "It is important that all Australians, particularly young children, are protected from this material," Conroy said. (Hon. Stephen Conroy, Speech at Treasury Place, Melbourne: Measures to Improve Safety of the Internet for Families (Dec. 15, 2009), available at http://www.minister.dbcde.gov.au/media/speeches/2009/075.)

The RC Content list will be compiled through a public complaints mechanism. The government will also add specific website addresses with child abuse material that it becomes aware of through information sharing with "highly-regarded international agencies." (Id.) The "rigor and accountability of classification processes used by these agencies" will be assessed before their information is relied upon. (Id.) At the time he announced the policy, Conroy released a discussion paper seeking public comment on additional measures to ensure transparency and accountability in the processes leading to material being placed on the RC Content list. (Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Mandatory Internet Service Provider (ISP) Filtering: Measures to Increase Accountability and Transparency for Refused Classification Material – Consultation Paper (Dec. 2009), available at http://www.dbcde.gov.au/funding_and_programs/cybersafety_plan/transparen
cy_measures
.)

The government's plans for compulsory internet filtering have been strongly criticized by Internet user groups, the pornography industry, and civil liberties proponents, both in Australia and overseas. Concerns include that the filter will be impractical to enforce, that legitimate websites will be blocked and the list of blocked websites kept secret, and that it will be ineffective because people will still be able to access prohibited material as the filter will only intercept accidental access. (Amy Coopes, Australia Announces Controversial Internet Filter, The Age, Dec. 15, 2009, available at http://news.theage.com.au/breaking-news-technology/australia-announces-c
ontroversial-internet-filter-20091215-kun9.html
; Government Green Light to Internet Filter, Brisbane Courier Mail, Dec. 15, 2009, available at http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,,26491936-953,00.html; Critics Blast "Great Firewall of Australia," ABC News, Dec. 15, 2009, available at http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/12/15/2772781.htm.)

Author: Kelly Buchanan More by this author
Topic: Communications More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Australia More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 12/30/2009