The Australian government is already planning to block legal internet content when its “great firewall” eventually goes live. That is the fear expressed by some of the most trenchant critics of this scheme, including Senators Simon Birmingham (for the Liberal Party) and Scott Ludlam (for the Greens) following another shift in emphasis by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in evidence to the Environment, Communications and the Arts committee on Monday.
The Australian government launched a trial of its filtering software on 11 February, in association with a number of ISPs, including Primus, Tech 2U, Webshield, OMNIconnect, Netforce and Highway 1. The focus for this trial was “illegal sites” under the Broadcasting Services Act.
Last October, in evidence to the committee, Senator Conroy was at pains to stress that only material that is currently illegal would be blocked under “mandatory filtering”. Given the chance to repeat this assertion on Monday, the Senator did not do so, stating instead that although the trial was based on sites hosting illegal content, decisions on what would actually be filtered would be taken “on the basis of the trial”.
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A part of the problem lies in the piecemeal way in which material is censored in Australia. Policing of online material is carried out by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. A spokeswoman for ACMA addressed the committee and explained that they would seek to block “any online content that is classified RC or X18+ by the classification board—I will come to what that means in a moment—and content which is classified R18+ and not subject to a restricted access system”.
In practice, that definition can include actual sex between consenting adults, as well as material that might quite legally be bought in a newsagent or adult shop. However, the focus for their blacklist remains child abuse material ACMA recently sealed an agreement with the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), giving them access to the IWF’s block list.