Australia Releases Report on Web Filter Test as Plans Proceed

Australian authorities released a report detailing a test of their plans to require Internet service providers to filter out content deemed objectionable. Australia is expected to make amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act next autumn.

A report testing Australia's controversial Web filtering plan is done, paving the way for the country to join thelist of nations with mandatory Web filtering.

Stephen Conroy, who is Australia's minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, released the report (PDF) Dec. 15 as he outlined the government's plans. Australian authorities expect to make amendments to the country's Broadcasting Services Act next year to require Internet service providers (ISPs) to block certain content hosted on overseas servers.

When the system is ready, all content falling under the category of "Refused Classification" (RC-rating) by the country's official ratings board will be blocked. Refused Classification includes child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence and the detailed instruction of crime or drug use. It is already illegal to distribute, sell or make available for hire RC-rated films, computer games and publications.

ISPs will also be encouraged via a grant program to offer expanded filtering services for customers who want one, according to Conroy.

The proposal has been controversial in Australia. Internet privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Australia (EFA) noted that though the report found that ISPs were generally able to block a government-provided blacklist of thousands of Websites without a major impact on service levels, it also found circumventing the filters was "trivial for motivated users."

"There are few surprises in this document," said EFA spokesperson Colin Jacobs in a media release. "Given the pilot's modest goals, it was designed from the beginning to pass. Although it may address some technical issues, what it leaves out is far more important-exactly what will be blocked, who will decide, and why is it being attempted in the first place?"

All nine ISPs participating in the test trial were able to block all the sites on the government's censorship list with 100 percent accuracy and minimal performance issues. Accuracy fell somewhat when the test went beyond the government's list, with the highest detection rate standing at 84 percent. The lowest was roughly 79 percent.

"The Government has always maintained there is no silver bullet solution to cyber-safety," Conroy said in a statement. "That is why we have established a comprehensive range of cyber-safety measures, including funding for 91 additional online Australian Federal Police officers and education."