Aussie Government Aborts Internet Filter Plan

May 16, 2013

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In a recent surprising turnaround, the Australian government announced that it is cancelling a plan to require the nation's Internet service providers to provide ISP-level filtering. In making the announcement, government sources claim aborting the plan will save taxpayers some AUS$4.5 million over the next few years. The original plan called for Australian ISPs to deploy filters that would prevent end users from accessing any content deemed by the government as “refused classification.” That classification simply refers to content that has not been approved under the country's current rating system as determined by the national Classification Board. Pornography, racism, child abuse and other types of offensive material would obviously fall under that classification. As an alternative, Australian ISPs will only be required to implement the established Interpol filter. The switch ostensibly saves the Australian government money because they will not have to develop their own filtering system. Whether or not the financial savings is the real reason behind aborting the plan is unclear.

Opposition Was Clear

When the government originally announced the plan, they immediately came under heavy criticism for requiring something that would be both unworkable and tantamount to Internet censorship. Opposition to the plan was well organised and put tremendous pressure on government officials. It even became a hot topic during the most recent Australian elections. Even as the argument raged, the government began developing recommendations for rating systems and the filter. Now that the plan has been scrapped, all of that work will be set aside in favour of the Interpol list included in the Telecommunications Act. For now, an Australian government Internet filter seems to be dead. A collective sigh of relief can now be shared among data centres, hosting companies, and ISPs all across the country. Hopefully the plan will not be resurrected again in the future.

Beware of Censorship

Despite the Australian government's insistence that the filter plan was not an attempt at censorship, it can be argued that censorship is always the inevitable result of such filtering. It cannot happen any other way. When a government entity determines what content can, and cannot, be viewed by Internet users they are engaged in a practice that is universally despised among free nations. That's not to say Internet filtering is not appropriate. It is. However, it is the responsibility of ISPs and content hosters, not government entities. In an era when cloud computing and high-speed data communications are proliferating, government-enforced filtering opens too many doors for those who would seek to use the technology to control thought. And that is never good. As for the financial savings the Australian government will enjoy by scrapping the plan, perhaps a good use for the money is to continue fighting cybercrime. If enforcement and prosecution efforts are maximised they are ultimately the best way to make sure the Internet remains a safe place for everyone. It also remains a place where free thinking continues to abound… and that's always good.