Mandatory Australian content filter delayed

A mandatory content filter for Australia, proposed by the current Labor government in 2007, has today been delayed for at least a year as Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced new transparency features and a review which will look into the Refused Classification (RC) content which the controversial filter would block.

In a media conference held in Melbourne, Australia this morning, Conroy announced a new process of transparency surrounding the content to be blocked by the filter, including an annual review of the content on the RC list by an independent expert appointed via consultation with the IT sector, clear ways for the public to appeal classification decisions, the ability for all content identified on the basis of a public complaint be classified by the Classification Board under the National Classification Scheme and the ability for affected parties to appeal decisions by the Classification Review Board.

The new procedures and in particular the review of RC content, are a result of public consultation and backlash over the filter, in which larger Australian IT companies such as Google Australia and Microsoft expressed dismay at the idea of a mandatory filter being placed upon Australia with no transparency or options to appeal decisions made about content blocked by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which was to be in control of the list of blocked content.

He also said that some in the community had expressed "concern" over the content which is contained in the Refused Classification (RC) category, which was up until today to be automatically blocked by the the mandatory filter.

“Some sections of the community have expressed concern about whether the range of material included in the RC category, under the National Classification Scheme, correctly reflects current community standards,” Conroy said in a statement today.

“As the Government's mandatory ISP filtering policy is underpinned by the strength of our classification system, the legal obligation to commence mandatory ISP filtering will not be imposed until the review is completed.”

In the meantime however, three of the major Australian Internet Service Providers, Telstra, Optus and Primus, will voluntarily block sites based on a list of websites containing child pornography and abuse content, created and maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

According to Telstra's Group Managing Director of Public Policy and Communications, David Quilty, Conroy approached major Australian internet service providers and asked them to take a "leadership position" by agreeing to the voluntary program.

“Telstra is happy to do this and continue our strong industry leadership in cyber-safety,” Quilty said in a prepared statement.

“Educating Australian kids, parents, teachers and carers about safe and secure internet and technology use is an integral part of our business and we are determined that our customers have the tools and the knowledge to help protect themselves and their children online.”

Google Australia, one of the biggest organizations to speak out about the filter, said they were "heartened" by the news a review of the content blocked will be undertaken, but remained critical of the fact that a mandatory filter is still on the cards.

"We're heartened to see Government has taken account of the genuine concerns expressed by many on the Refused Classification category.  While our position on the Government's proposed filter has not changed, we welcome the recommendation to conduct a review of the RC classification and we look forward to the opportunity to provide input," Karim Temsamani, the Managing Director of Google Australia and New Zealand said today.

"Our primary concern has always been that the scope of the proposed filter is far too broad. It goes way beyond child sexual abuse material and would block access to important online information for all Australians."

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