I have written much in the past about Australia’s plan to filter content from the internet that has been “refused classification”. Over the past several months, the scheme seemed to be all but dead. Support for it was dropped just prior to recent elections and it has seemingly fallen off the international news radar.
As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, Stephen Conroy, the plan’s foremost advocate has suggested it could not be implemented at the national broadband level.
“The filter doesn’t work through the wholesale network, it works through the [internet service providers] or [retail service providers (RSP)], the Telstras, Optuses, Primuses, that’s the level that it works at,” he said.
“It’s not technically possible for the filter to be applied at the National Broadband Network level, it can only be applied at the RSP level.”
While that may be true, the government could still bring pressure to bear on ISPs and RSPs to accomplish the same end:
But David Vaile, the executive director of the University of NSW’s Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, said the government could still use its ownership of the wholesale fibre-optic network to “lean on” ISPs.
“If you have a commercial relationship when you’re the monopoly supplier, the terms you set are the terms people must follow,” Mr Vaile said.
“They’re re-nationalising the internet and to a large extent the telephone system as well.
This could mean that the government, rather than caving in to public complaints about the filtering have just decied to take a more circuitous route to accomplish the same end:
Mr Vaile said announcements in July that telcos Telstra, Optus and Primus had agreed to voluntarily block online child pornography material were classic examples of indirect pressure being applied.
“Telstra and Optus have voluntarily agreed to implement a form of the blacklist already, without legislation or any form of transparency,” he said.
“That’s pure persuasion and leaning on.”
And while the official pretense has been about blocking child porn, the fact is that the Australian black list goes beyond child porn sites into the realm of blocking political content.