Australia drops internet filter plan

Sydney - Australia on Friday scrapped a controversial plan to filter the internet, saying it will instead block hundreds of websites identified by Interpol as among the worst child abuse sites.

The centre-left Labour government had pushed since 2007 for a mandatory internet filter to protect children, to be administered by service providers, despite criticism it was impractical and set a precedent for censorship.

But Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the government had now reached an agreement with internet providers that they would block "the worst of the worst" child abuse material that is available on the web to the public.

"Blocking the Interpol 'worst of' list meets community expectations and fulfils the government's commitment to preventing Australian internet users from accessing child abuse material online," Conroy said in a statement.

"Given this successful outcome, the government has no need to proceed with mandatory filtering legislation."

Censorship

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd pledged to introduce a mandatory filter in 2007, with internet providers required to block all sites as identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The idea was that the filter would bar access to material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse.

But web giants such as Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft slammed the initiative as setting a precedent for censorship, while cyber activists likened it to firewalls operating in China and Iran.

The plan, which had also drawn concern from the US State Department, was put on hold pending a content review in July 2010 as national elections loomed.

Under the new agreement, Australia's major internet service providers (ISPs), accounting for some 90% of internet users, will block child abuse websites on Interpol's "worst of" child abuse list.

Australian Federal Police will make contact with the remaining ISPs to help them meet their obligation under the new plan, which is similar to the approach adopted in Britain, Canada and Scandinavian countries, said Conroy.

The Internet Industry Association chief Peter Lee welcomed the initiative.

Unwholesome material

"Blocking the Interpol 'worst of' list is a positive step in preventing Australian internet users from committing the offence of accessing child abuse material," he said.

Online rights campaigners also welcomed the decision as "a win for common sense", but said most child abuse material was not readily available on the open web.

The Australian Christian Lobby told the ABC a filter was needed to protect children from pornography and other unwholesome material.
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