The Rudd Government's mandatory ISP filtering bill will soon be introduced into Parliament, and we can only hope that the debate there will focus more on the real merits of the scheme – which are few and far between – than empty rhetoric about protecting children. When the debate happens, here are some questions the Government needs to answer under the glare of public scrutiny.
1. Given the trouble and expense of this policy, you must have some pretty convincing evidence that children are being constantly exposed to RC material. How was your research conducted and will it be released to the public?
(In fact, research indicates that of all the threats kids face online, accidental exposure to disturbing content is about the least significant.)
2. Two-thirds of Internet-connected households don't have school-age children. Isn't forcing a filter onto them as well as businesses unnecessary?
(We have never heard a cogent explanation why the filter should be mandatory and not opt-in, or why it's a better solution than more comprehensive and customisable PC-based filters.)
3. Given the reasonably poor uptake of filters by parents in the past, what makes you so sure the Australian people want a filter at a national level?
(Survey data shows that parents who don't install filters do so mainly because they consider them unnecessary or too restrictive, not for technical or cost reasons.)
4. Why did you meet with the Australian Christian Lobby before making last week's announcements? Have you met with groups opposed to the filter?
(Conroy's office ignores our polite requests to make our case.)
5. In targeting child pornography, isn't the blacklist mechanism, which relies on the media regulator and the Australian public, a poor way to track down this material compared to investigations by law enforcement professionals?
(Illegal material is not typically published on the open web, and when it is, is usually taken down quickly.)
6. In the past you have indicated that the blacklist will include material imported from overseas groups like the Internet Watch Foundation. Is it still the case that lists prepared by unaccountable third parties overseas might be part of Australian censorship?
(The Internet Watch Foundation's list caused controversy in Britain when it added a Wikipedia page to its list in 2008.)
7. The Enex trial indicated tests at speeds far below those promised by the new National Broadband Network. Won't the filter interfere with the rollout of this much more important project?
(We can't understand why the Government is pursuing the filtering policy so zealously when the $43 billion NBN is so clearly a higher priority for the country.)
8. Experts say than an ISP filter is easy to circumvent by anyone who wants to. Doesn't that undermine the usefulness of the entire enterprise?
(It's inevitable that getting around the filter will be easy. Therefore, it only prevents accidental access to any site on the list.)
9. When they reach banned websites, will Australians see a message from the government informing them why the page was blocked, or will the page just refuse to load?
(We have many more worries about transparency in the system, especially concerning the oversight of the list itself.)
10. What would stop some future conservative governments adding to the blacklist in a campaign against dangerous or immoral content?
(Of course, this question only has one answer: Nothing. Once the blacklisting has begun, it's hard to imagine it will never expand, let alone ever be rolled back.)
Sadly, EFA suspects that if these issues have been considered at all by the Government, they do not have good answers ready. We maintain that until all of them can be addressed satisfactorily, mandatory ISP filtering amounts to nothing more than a political stunt designed to wedge the opposition and garner some easy votes.