By Anthony Barich
THE Australian bishops’ spokesman on media issues has warned that the country risks being left behind on internet safety if the community fails to back the Federal Government’s controversial plan for Internet Service Provider (ISP) filtering.
Bishop Peter Ingham of Wollongong, NSW said that fears of civil liberty infringements by ISP filtering are “absolutely spurious”, and said that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference holds that whatever could reasonably be done to filter out illegal sites at ISP level should be done.
As part of a $44.2m policy initiative, the Rudd Government has proposed legislative changes that would require all ISPs to provide a mandatory filter to block access to a specific blacklist of web sites created and maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
ISPs will be required to implement a two-tier system – a mandatory one blocking all content deemed illegal and another optional tier blocking content deemed inappropriate for children, like porn.
The Government also started a live trial of internet censorship technology on December 24 that would filter against 1300 illegal web pages, a blacklist managed by ACMA that mainly contains child pornography links.
Depictions of actual sexual activity, child pornography, depictions of bestiality, excessive violence or sexual violence, detailed instruction about crime, violence or drug use and any material that advocates terrorist activity are all on the prohibited list.
“Families should also be able to access filters that can be customised to block more material if they choose to do so,” Senator Conroy said.
While both Bishop Ingham and Senator Conroy cited Britain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Canada as examples of countries with existing ISP filtering, the ISPs’ participation in at least three of these countries is optional, and is understood to be limited mainly to child porn.
“In many of these countries, the ISPs themselves have initiated the filtering in order to live up to the community’s expectations that illegal material or material that is harmful to children should not be available on the internet,” Bishop Ingham said.
Hundreds protested in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne on December 13 against the proposed web censorship; some fearing it would slow down internet speed, stifle political opinion, that material that shouldn’t be blocked will be, and that such legislation would be tough to dismantle once in place.
Bishop Ingham defended the government’s proposal, saying it “simply aims to ensure that the material accessible on the internet is in line with the restrictions already in place in regard to DVDs or publications”.
“Pornography of any kind is harmful to human dignity and often degrading to women,” he said, citing research that shows internet pornography is also becoming increasingly harmful to marriages and relationships.
“In particular, every parent knows that much of the pornographic material that can be found on the internet ought not to be accessible to children.
“We call on the community to get behind the federal government on this important issue and support its attempts to keep pace with the rest of the world when it comes to cleaning up the Net in a fair and reasonable way.”
He said it was “disappointing” to read reports that Telstra, Australia’s largest Internet provider, has said it will not participate in trials of the federal government’s national internet filter.
Psychologists and children’s advocates have said that filtering of internet porn is needed to prevent sexualisation of children.
Christian Democratic Party WA state president Gerard Goiran told The Record that fears of over-filtering are not as important as the need to stop internet porn distribution.