Liberals announce they will implement UK-style internet filter, say it was an “error” (despite selling it hours ago)

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tony abbott

UPDATE: Just less than 72 hours before the election, the Coalition quietly announced that they plan to bring in a UK-style internet filtering program – meaning that ISPs will turn on internet filters by default, though users can opt-out of the program by calling their ISPs. However, communications spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull has said that this was apparently posted in error.

“The Coalition will work with internet service providers (which provide fixed line broadband services to the home) to develop online safety standards for those services, recognising that they are very often accessed by children,” according to its original policy on online safety.

“As has recently been achieved in the UK, we expect these standards will involve the major internet service providers providing home network filters for all new home broadband services, which will be switched on as the default unless the customer specifies otherwise.”

The Coalition’s original policy document also noted that it plans to extend filtering to smartphones and mobile devices – again by default, saying that they will work with Optus, Vodafone and Telstra to do so. Users will be able to opt-out of such material by proving that they are over the age of 18.

While it is indeed different to the previous Labor proposal of having a mandatory filter in place, that was dropped late last year after Labor partnered with several ISPs – including Optus and Telstra – to implement a filter for child pornography based on a list provided by Interpol, and using powers under the controversial Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to compel other ISPs like iiNet to follow suit.

Turnbull says that the policy, however, was uploaded as an error. Posting on Twitter, the communications spokesperson wrote: “Policy released today wrongly indicated we supported an opt out system of internet filtering. That is not our policy and never has been. Position is Coalition will encourage carriers to make software available for parents to install on own devices to protect kids.”

“In other words – no mandatory filter, no opt out filter, but support parents taking [responsibility] for their own kids’ activity online.”

However, the comments somewhat contradict the comments made by Paul Fletcher, a Liberal MP, to ZDNet Australia’s Josh Taylor. Fletcher told the site, “What we intend to do is work with the industry to arrive at an arrangement where the default is that there is a filter in the home device, the home network, that is very similar to the filters that are available today. This is very much about protecting children from inappropriate content, particularly pornography.”

“The key thing is it is an opt-out, so it will be open to the customer to call up and say, ‘look, I don’t want this’, and indeed, we will work with the industry to make this a streamlined and efficient process. The default is that you have the system turned on. You have the filter turned on, but anybody who doesn’t want it is free to have it off … irrespective if you’re a parent or not.”

Turnbull himself also defended the policy on ABC Triple J’s Hack programme hours before tweeting it was an error.

If it is indeed policy from the Coalition, it would be a massive backflip given they were against Labor’s mandatory internet filter. Under Howard, the Coalition offered free software to parents to install filters in their homes – though, it was easily circumvented. However, in anticipation of the negative response on the backflip, the Coalition said it was “empowering parents”.

Yes, empowering parents – by dragging everyone along with it.

Both the Greens and the Pirate Party have criticised Abbott’s plans to filter the internet and the timing to announce the policy within the dying days of the election campaign.

“The Liberals’ decision to release a draconian Internet censorship policy this close to an election is utterly disgraceful,” Brendan Molloy, NSW lead candidate for the Pirate Party, said in a statement posted online today. Molloy also said that the policy appears to be broader than the Labor mandatory filter, and is a waste of money.

“Opt-out filtering treats everyone like a child by default, and puts those who choose to opt-out from the Government-chosen list of acceptable websites on a list of deemed ‘undesirables’ that can be later abused. This is a reprehensible policy and we will fight it to the death,” Molloy says. “It’s simple: the Liberal policy will make censorship malware mandatory on your devices. That’s not okay.”

Senator Scott Ludlam, who is facing reelection and is the Green’s communications spokesperson, also says that it is much more broader than Labor’s mandatory filter and promises to defeat it.

“This idea is co-mingled with a large volume of unpopular policy garbage that the presumptive Prime Minister is offloading in the 40-odd hours before the election. It is indicative of the kind of Government we can expect to be subjected to on September 8. The Greens worked with the online community to defeat the Rudd filter – now Abbott has given us a taste of the contempt with which he intends to treat the entire adult population of Australia,” he said.

In the UK, their proposed filter has also been criticised for being broad enough to target innocent sites. Several authors and journalists warn that it could affect the LGBT community and adults by blocking access to health and education websites, and add that it could give a false sense of security.

“Focusing on a default on filter ignores the importance of sex and relationship education and sexual health. Worse, you are giving parents the impression that if they install Internet filters they can consider their work is done,” the group – who includes Belle de Jour writer Brooke Magnanti – wrote in an open letter.

“Simply blocking adult material by default will have three negative consequences. First, it will most likely block too much, especially as the filters will cover far more than pornography. It is likely that the filters will unintentionally block important sites related to sexual health, LGBT issues, or sex and relationship education. This will be very damaging for LGBT young people, for example, or vulnerable adults who may be cut off from important support and advice, in particular those with abusive partners who are also the Internet account holder.”

“Second, it distracts attention away from the need for consent-focused sex and relationship education and support for young people struggling with challenging issues. Third ‘one click to protect the whole family’ offers a false sense of confidence and does nothing to combat the real harms that children face, such as stalking, bullying or grooming.”

via ZDNet Australia