The Australian government has given a green light to a controversial plan to filter the internet. Under new amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act, all internet service providers (ISPs) in Australia must implement mandatory content filtering technology to block material rated “Refused Classification” (RC). A blacklist maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be used as the source of the filter.
Blocked content will include illegal material related to drug use, crime, and sexual violence, along with extreme pornographic materials. Dozens of films and video games are also included in the blacklist. A live trial involving 9 ISPs tested the system. Enex Testlabs, the company that conducted the tests, reported that the system is far from perfect. The filters produce false positives at a rate as high as 4%, blocking innocuous items such as references to sperm whales, and even the website of a dentist from Queensland. Enex called this overfiltering “unacceptable”, but it seems the Australian government disagrees.
The impact that this new filtering system will have on internet gambling in Australia is not immediately apparent since online gambling sites are not as of yet included in the ACMA’s blacklist, but Communications Minister Stephen Conroy made an announcement earlier today that is raising some concerns. ISPs, says Conroy, will be eligible to receive grant money from the Australian government if they filter more content than the mandatory blacklist demands. This financial enticement to offer additional filtering is a slippery slope and it has many parties concerned. It means that ISPs could potentially receive money for blocking X18+ and R rated material, or even online gambling sites in Australia. It has been suggested that this additional filtering could be offered as an optional “feature” at extra cost to consumers, but this has yet to be confirmed.
This new internet censorship scheme will be implemented over a 12-month rollout period, beginning in last quarter of 2010.