The Federal Government has remained quiet on alleged concerns raised by the US State Department on a proposal to install Internet content filters in Australia.
Under the national mandatory filtering plan, ISPs would be required to install filtering technology to prohibit access to websites on a government-held blacklist.
The plan has raised the ire of the like of Google, Reporters Without Borders and many in the local telecommunications industry. Telcos have long said users could reach banned websites through technical loopholes inherent to filters and others, including Google and Reporters Without Borders, have objected to the government’s decision to make filtering mandatory.
Australia has joined the exclusive Reporters without Borders’ Enemies of the Internet 2010 for its part in the mandatory imposition of filtering, dubbed “under surveillance”. The fraternity includes Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
Criticism is more subdued against voluntary Internet filtering schemes such as those in place across the United States, the United Kingdom, and recently New Zealand.
US State Department spokesperson, Noel Clay, told The Punch: “We do not discuss the details of specific diplomatic exchanges, but can say that in the context of that ongoing relationship, we have raised our concerns on this matter with Australian officials.
Clay said the US Government’s position on internet freedom issues is well known, expressed most recently in Secretary Hillary Clinton’s January 21st address.
Clinton spoke of “a spike in threats to the free flow of information” in fraternity countries China, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
“On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the US does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognise that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it,” Clinton said.
A spokeswoman for communications minister, Stephen Conroy, said it would be “inappropriate to discuss the details” of the comments by the State Department.
She reiterated the government’s policy that there are “no plans to block any other material that is not [restricted content]”.
Not so, according to shadow treasurer Joe Hockey. He told Melbourne’s Grattan Institute this month that such promises lose substance once a government loses power.
“Some may argue that we can surely trust a democratically-elected government in Australia to never try to introduce more wide-spread censorship. I am not so sure,” Hockey said, adding that responsibility for child protection on the Internet lay with parents, “not the government”.