Industry baffled over clean-feed internet pilot

Filtering the net akin to boiling the ocean: Telstra

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) participating in live trials of the national Internet content filtering scheme say the tests will be undermined by a government decision to test the “clean-feed” blacklist under watered-down conditions.

The voluntary trials will test the efficiency of ISP-level Internet content filtering which, if successful, will be implemented across all Australian Web connections at an estimated cost of $70 million. The initiative, part of the government's $125.8 million cyber safety plan to reduce child pornography, will block nefarious and illegal content listed in a separate clean-feed and opt-out blacklist, operated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Blacklists will be immune from public scrutiny under an ACMA exemption to the Freedom of Information Act as disclosure of the banned Web sites would allow paedophiles to avoid detection and would hinder law enforcement efforts. The addition of new content categories to the blacklists requires parliamentary approval.

[Content filtering] won't happen; it just can't happen

Telstra's Michael Rocca

The plan has come under intense fire from industry experts and privacy lobby groups that argue ISP-level filtering will choke Internet speeds and encourage censorship abuse.

Many participating telcos, which include Optus, Internode, and iiNet, have told Computerworld they do not agree with the scheme and expect the trials to return unacceptable results.

Telstra, the nation's largest telco, has refused to participate in the voluntary trials. Chief operations officer Greg Winn, responding to questions at a Sydney media lunch, said the scheme is a no-win for government and industry.

“It is like trying to boil the ocean,” Winn said.

“It is my personal opinion, but there is just no win for anyone in this.”

The telco has said it will implement its own content filters if the plan is mandated.

iiNet chief regulatory officer Stephen Dalby said plans to test the clean-feed blacklist of 10,000 dummy URLs in a simulated environment will undermine the trials.

“Because we don't know what the (clean-feed) blacklist contains, we assume it contains about 9000 dummy URLs,” Dalby said.

“We don't know if the whole list will be tested live, or just the real URLs.”

“We have said repeatedly that the scheme will not be successful. It becomes ridiculous in the extreme when industry has to make decisions on content to be filtered.”

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Tags internet content filteringACMA

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