Filtering The Internet at the ISP – October 27th, 2008

Wow, huge reaction this morning from you about our discussions on the Today Show about filtering the internet at the ISP. Thankyou very much for your emails and calls. Most of the concerns that I have received on email and via the switchboard at the Today Show, have rotated around ‘censorship’ of the internet and whether Australia in moving to an ISP based filtering model will mean censorship of our internet connections.

First up, it’s important to note that I am passionate about keeping kids safe when they are online. Heaven help members of my wider family when I hear they let their kids surf the web in the study alone! Kids love to explore and on the internet they can do so much to learn and develop. Filtering the family PC and providing adult supervision is the way that many experts believe is the best current way to keep our kids safe.

Now back to the topic. Filtering the internet is available right now! You can get a free filter by going to the government NetAlert website. The filtering is carried out at the pc level and is applicable only to the person using the pc where the software is installed.

The concept we discussed this morning was filtering at the ‘ISP level’. This is your provider such as Optus Internet, IInet or one of hundreds of other providers installing equipment and software at the ISP and filtering websites and content before it reaches your pc. The main benefit is that you no longer need to think about filtering because it’s done for you. There are problems however, and in recent trials in Tasmania it was found that filtering at the ISP had two main results. Firstly the speed of the connection was slowed by up to 70%. Secondly, not all websites that should have been filtered were removed and also websites that should have been allowed were blocked!

When a filter is in place it creates a ‘Blacklist’ of websites. This list can be programmed to reject any site the administrator of the list wants to block and this block can be applied via a number of criteria. The main thing to note is that a Blacklist that let’s through content you don’t want to see is practically useless. Why have a gate if everyone can easily jump over it?

The concern with the rumblings from Canberra is that discussion has occurred around forcing Australian internet users to connect to the internet via an ISP filtered internet service. This service would have two tiers, a tier for filtering content not suitable for children and a less stringent tier that filters illegal content (such as Child pornography). Media reports also suggest that this filtering could be mandatory, and provide no option for the user but to look at the internet through the filtered Blacklist. Such a Blacklist would need to be managed by an organisation or government body.

The concern is that should Canberra direct Australian internet users down this path the opportunity for censorship is created. We all cringe when we hear about the censoring of the internet in foreign countries such as China. However operating a mandatory isp based filtering policy gives the government the infrastructure to do just that in Australia. Filtering an illegal site is as easy as filtering this website, and when it’s filtered from the isp – you won’t even know the website exists.
We’ll be following this issue over the coming months, I promise.