TRIALS of mandatory internet censorship will begin within days despite a secret high-level report to the Rudd Government that found the technology simply does not work, will significantly slow internet speeds and will block access to legitimate websites.
The report, commissioned by the Howard government and prepared by the Internet Industry Association, concluded that schemes to block inappropriate content such as child pornography are fundamentally flawed.
If the trials are deemed a success, the Government has earmarked $44 million to impose a compulsory “clean feed” on all internet subscribers in Australia as soon as late next year.
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But the report says the filters would slow the internet – as much as 87 per cent by some measures – be easily bypassed and would not come close to capturing all of the nasty content available online. They would also struggle to distinguish between wanted and unwanted content, leading to legitimate sites being blocked. Entire user-generated content sites, such as YouTube and Wikipedia, could be censored over a single suspect posting.
This raises serious freedom of speech questions, such as who will be held accountable for blocked sites and whether the Government will be pressured to expand the blacklist to cover lawful content including pornography, gambling sites and euthanasia material.
The report, based on comprehensive interviews with many parties with a stake in the internet, was written by several independent technical experts including a University of Sydney associate professor, Bjorn Landfeldt. It was handed to the Government in February but has been kept secret.
“I definitely think that what the Government is showing publicly ?c is such a small part of what they need to do in order to get this right,” Professor Landfeldt told the Herald.
He said he believed the Government had not released his report because its conclusions were too damaging.
“It’s definitely not going to be workable to get a very significant reduction in access to this [unwanted] content that is available out there – it’s fundamentally just not viable.”
The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy – despite his promises before Labor was elected that people would be able to opt out of any internet filters – has said the first tier of the Government’s censorship policy will be compulsory for all. This would block all “illegal” and “inappropriate” material, as determined in part by a secret blacklist administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.