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Tuesday, 16 December 2008 15:47

Internet content filtering - time for the great debate

Filtering and censoring the Internet has never been more in the news in Australia, as our Government seriously contemplates the equivalent of a “Great Firewall” at each ISP. Although the reasons sound pure, so as to protect Australians from child pornography, civil libertarians and free thinking Aussies wonder what would be censored next, and how far we can trust any government. A debate on the 19th of December will be webcast – and everyone’s invited.

Internet content filtering is seen as the scourge of the digital era, removing the rights of free thinking people to an unfiltered, uncensored, non-politically meddled with Internet.

So strong has the reaction against filtering been in Australia, that big demonstrations against the idea and the plan have occurred in several capital cities, online campaigns have begun, and Australia’s Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, has been dubbed the Minister for Internet Censorship.

Internet users worldwide have already seen censorship’s effects in countries like China, and the effects of that censorship can even be seen whether you live in China or not. Just go to the US or Australian “Google Images” site and type in “Tiananmen Square”.

Then go to the publicly available Chinese language version of Google Images, and try the same query. The results stare you in the face – and if you’re an Australian, you’re not even surfing from within Chinese territory.

One of the biggest concerns over Internet censorship is where the line is drawn. Today, clearly objectionable and illegal material such as child pornography would be blocked, but would Governments choose to censor competing political parties in the future?

Would harmless investigations on medical issues, such as “breast cancer” find themselves blocked too?

These are questions that have plagued “Net Nanny” style programs for years, but at least these can be freely installed by parents in their own homes, at their own discretion, and give parents the freedom to unblock sites that should be accessible, and block others they don’t want their children to see.

At the current time, the Australian Government is conducting a trial of ISP filtering technologies with some Australian ISP, although the dominant local ISP, Telstra, has refused to take part, saying that trying to filter the Internet is like trying to “boil the ocean”.

So while there isn’t yet any definitive decision on which way the Government will go, there is still time for our voices to be heard, and for our Government to be told: do not censor the Internet.

There’s also time for more debate, and while there is clearly much debating going on within Government, ISPs, consumer groups and the public, there is one debate you can take part in online, through a free webinar session on Friday, December 19, at 11am AEST.

It’s called “The Content Filtering Debate”, and you can register to take part, and/or receive a free transcript, via this link.

The debate will cover the following, and more:

- Can content filtering be done without degrading Internet performance?

- What are other countries doing about illegal and malicious material?

- Who are the Internet Watch Foundation and what do they do?

The debate is being sponsored by DNS solutions provider Nominum.

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