MINISTER for Communications Stephen Conroy has vowed to push on with his controversial internet filtering scheme, despite a barrage of criticism.
Senator Conroy told The Sun-Herald that internet advocacy groups such as GetUp! were "deliberately misleading" the Australian public about the scheme, which will refuse classification to illegal and socially unacceptable web pages. The legislation, which was expected to be passed before Parliament rises in June, has been delayed until the second half of the year while the government fine-tunes it.
The government's $128.8 million Cyber Safety policy includes forcing internet service providers to block access to a secret blacklist of website pages identified as "refused classification" by the Australian police.
Web pages will be nominated for blacklisting by Australian internet users who come across illegal or "unacceptable" websites.
"This is a policy that will be going ahead," Senator Conroy said. "We are still consulting on the final details of the scheme. But this policy has been approved by 85 per cent of Australian internet service providers, who have said they would welcome the filter, including Telstra, Optus, iPrimus and iinet."
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that 72 per cent of Australian households have home internet access and more than 2 million children regularly use computers.
The scheme has attracted broad opposition from communications experts, search-engine companies Google and Yahoo!, the federal opposition and members of the nation's intellectual elite.
Critics claim the policy will not result in any meaningful dent in the availability of harmful internet content, will create significant freedom-of-speech issues and will be prone to abuse by politicians.
"The scope of filtered content is so broad that it could block content that would inform political and social debate," Google spokeswoman Lucinda Barlow said.
Former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull has also condemned the proposed filtering scheme as a "white elephant". "This system will not be effective," Mr Turnbull said. "This policy will run the risk of false impressions [of security], when there should be parental responsibility."
Executive director of GetUp! Brett Solomon said the Prime Minister should step in to ditch the scheme. "The government would be better off developing policies to ensure the privacy of Australians is better safeguarded rather than pursuing the filter. This should be a promise that Kevin Rudd should break."
GetUp! national director Simon Sheikh said a online petition by the activists had received support from 120,000 people and raised $100,000 to stop the legislation. An additional opinion poll by research firm Galaxy showed 86 per cent felt that parents, not the government, should have the primary responsibility for protecting information on the internet.
"Consistently the Australian people are saying that they don't want it," Mr Sheikh said.
But Bernadette McMenamin of the child protection group Child Wise said it was 100 per cent behind filtering illegal material. "Sites are going to be blocked that should be blocked, and it's absolutely essential every parent is taught about the dangers of the internet."
The Australian Privacy Foundation, however, said the cost of the filter would be better directed to more internet education.
Yet Senator Conroy said "blocking material is not considered to be censorship".
"This filter is really not changing much, except that the blacklist of website pages will be mandatory."
The fourth Cyber Security Awareness Week starts next week to help raise awareness of internet privacy issues.
SOURCE: The Sydney Morning Herald