Eyes on Australia as Govt. Pushes National Internet Filter

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Governments and organisations around the world are intently watching Australia as the Federal Government continues to peddle the proposed ISP-level Internet filter, former GetUp executive director and AccessNow founder, Brett Solomon, has revealed.

Speaking on ABC's Q&A program on Monday night, Solomon said Australia was constantly brought up in conversations he had with organisations around the world.

"Have you ever heard an American ambassador stand up publicly and say 'we're having healthy discussion with Australia'," he said. "We're in two wars with America and I've never heard that phrase.

"I've been to meeting after meeting internationally, and Australia is raised at every meeting."

Current GetUp national director, Simon Sheikh, told Computerworld Australia that the Electronic Frontiers Foundation in the US and even Chinese newspapers were some of the parties contributing to a disparate but interested view on the progress of Australia's proposed Internet filter.

"The Western international community do seem to be condemning the net filter," he said. "However, we get translations of Chinese newspapers that point to Australia as an example of positive censorship. From our point of view, when China is pointing to you in their local state-run newspapers as a positive example on the issue of censorship in Australia, surely something's going wrong."

Freelance writer and Internet consultant, Kaiser Kuo, who was also present on the ABC program, said that as an American of Chinese descent, the movement of a traditionally liberal country like Australia to government-run information censorship was regrettable.

US ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, recently condemned the Government's proposed mandatory internet filter on the same ABC program.

"We have been able to accomplish the goals that Australia has described, which is to capture and prosecute child pornographers and others who use the Internet for terrible purposes, without having to use internet filters," he said. "We have other means and we are willing to share our efforts with them in order to allow them to at least look at a range of choices, as opposed to moving in one particular direction."

With legislation unlikely to hit Parliament before the next Federal election, community debate continues to rage as to how to implement a filter designed to protect children from Refused Classification material, and where the responsibility ultimately lies for its maintenance.

In posing a question to members of the Q&A panel, Child Wise chief executive officer, BernadetteMcMenamin, asked why Internet service providers (ISPs) - who would be responsible for the technical maintenance of the filter for their respective users - are not held more accountable for the dissemination of illegal material. While this question was not directly answered by the panel members, it is one that remains prominent in the debate surrounding the mandatory filter.

Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, recently said his push for the filter continued because service providers had not provided any opposition to it. At the same time,he said service providers could at any time implement their own filter without the Government getting involved.

"The frustrating part about it is this: They don't need me to invite them," he said on ABC program ,Four Corners. "They could have announced it five years ago, they could have announced it 10 years ago, they could have announced it yesterday. They've got a policy opposing any form of voluntary ISP filtering of anything."

Internet Industry Association chief executive officer, Peter Coroneos, denied that ISPs had been sitting back on the filter issue.

"We've actually approached the government on several occasions to propose a solution with best practice and under jurisdiction," he said on Four Corners. "But for whatever reason, the government is intent on pursuing a legislative course."

Another issue raised - whether the range of classification can be expanded under future governments - was met with strong opposition from Conroy.

"If the majority parliament in the future want to try and broaden the classification, Australians should step up and say 'just a minute', and I'm one of them."

In an impromptu poll on Q&A last night, nearly all of the audience present at the live program said they didn't accept the proposed filter.

This story, "Eyes on Australia as Govt. Pushes National Internet Filter" was originally published by Computerworld Australia.

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