On 31 December 2008, the Federal Government announced that it
would be discontinuing the NetAlert internet filtering program
established by the previous government. The government will now
require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to implement a new
mandatory internet filtering system. In promoting the new system,
much focus has been placed on the system's ability to
effectively block access to websites containing material offensive
to children, including child pornography and cyber-bullying.
However, the Government's plans have been met with some
criticism, particularly by those concerned with the level of
censorship that could be imposed by the system.
The previous NetAlert system was an optional filtering program
available for free download. If they wished, parents could download
the program and use it in conjunction with any other internet
filters or other security programs installed on their computer. The
idea of the NetAlert initiative was to allow parents to manage
their children's internet usage in line with their own family
values. To this extent, end users were in a position to adjust the
filtering preferences of the NetAlert program and thus control the
level of content available for their children on their own
computer. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the percentage of
internet users that downloaded the NetAlert program was lower than
The new system to be introduced by the Government is a mandatory
filtering system implemented at the ISP level. It is intended that
all internet connections will be subject to ISP filters, which will
filter internet content to end users without giving the end user an
option to vary the level of filtration. Prohibited websites
included on blacklists maintained by the Australian Communications
and Media Authority (ACMA) will be routinely blocked by the
filters. The Government is currently undertaking a live test of the
new system with certain ISPs to determine its feasibility moving
A number of questions and criticisms have been levelled at the
proposed new system. In particular, the following issues have been
Should the onus of child supervision be taken from parents?
Many believe that through the new system the Government is seeking
to assume a responsibility best left to parents;
ISP filters cannot prevent all means of spreading information
over the internet. Given that a large amount of cyber-bullying is
conducted via instant messaging or other direct communication
methods that cannot be blocked by ISP filters, there is concern
that the new system will not effectively achieve one of its primary
Will the implementation of ISP filters slow down internet
connections? Many ISPs have already stated that current technology
cannot allow for blanket filtering without affecting internet
With the exception of illegal materials, should the Government
be empowered to decide what is otherwise offensive for end users?
"Illegal" materials in general must be distinguished from
materials to which access by children only is prohibited. Given
that the blacklists prepared by the ACMA contain certain material
that is lawful for adults to view, there is a strong concern that
the proposed ISP filters will block legal material otherwise
available to adults in an effort to protect children; and
Is a filtering system provided at the ISP level more secure
than a filtering program installed on a PC? Some internet experts
suggest that the means for children to circumvent ISP and PC-based
filters are the same, meaning that practically no extra level of
security is afforded by introducing filters at the ISP level.
The live testing currently being conducted by the government
should answer at least the technical questions and criticisms
listed above. However, moral questions concerning censorship and
the Government's role in filtering publicly available content
will remain open to further discussion as the Government's
cyber-safety plan is rolled out over the course of the year.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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