Australian Web Industry Association
Perth, Western Australia
December 16, 2009
Yesterday, Federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, announced that the Federal Government plans to move ahead with mandatory Internet Service Provider (ISP) level filtering of all Internet connections.

The Australian Web Industry Association, after reviewing the Enex TestLab report commissioned by the government along with evidence from other parties, strongly renews its opposition to this radical action being taken by the Federal Government. Instead, we favour education for parents and funding for ISPs to provide varying levels of filtering on a per-user opt-in basis, so that users may make an informed choice on how best to protect themselves.

Should the mandatory ISP level filtering go ahead, Australia would become the first country in the Western world to enforce mandatory filtering of not only child pornography material, but also a list of other “questionable” material, the exact details of which are somewhat sketchy.

A recent report entitled “Untangling The Net: The Scope of Content Caught By Mandatory Internet Filtering” produced by Professors Catharine Lumby, Lelia Green and John Hartley, raises some concerning points, including a paragraph which highlights the potentially broad scope of the new internet filter. Such a broad scope will damage the freedom of expression in Australia. One example of a blacklisted site is a harmless (yet useful and educational) website devoted to discussing causes of terrorism, which published material outlining the views of terrorist organisations.

A number of AWIA members have expressed grave concern about the ramifications of a mandatory filter. The repercussions are not just about false positives and protecting our children from the negative aspects of the internet, they also relate to the speed at which we work and use the Internet.

The Federal Government’s argument that this will in some way stop the flow of Child Pornography is misguided and incorrect.  It is our opinion that anyone seriously interested in trafficking material of an illegal nature is no doubt already able to circumvent detection methods currently in place. The filter will not pose a problem for these people.
AWIA committee member Matthew Didcoe added that “If I had a child, I wouldn’t sit them in front of the computer and let them roam the Internet. Any responsible parent would sit down with their child, browse with them and also make use of freely available filtering software to ensure their child’s safety on the Internet.”
Secondary to the issue of censorship but perhaps of even more importance to the Australian economy are the speed decreases reported as a side-effect of the filter, ranging from 9% (termed “negligible” in the report) up to a staggering 44%.
Kay Smoljak, partner in a web business and recent recipient of the coveted Most Valuable Contribution to the Web Industry award, notes that “internet performance in Australia is already pitiful compared to other first world countries, particularly in regional areas. Any decrease in speed should be deemed absolutely unacceptable by Australian businesses.”
The Australian Web Industry Association strongly encourages all interested parties to read the background material available on the government’s plans and investigate the Electronic Frontiers Australia “No Clean Feed” campaign if they wish to get involved.
  Ashul Shah
  Treasurer, Australian Web Industry Association
  0412 114 965 (+61 4 1211 4965)
  Matthew Didcoe
  Committee, Australian Web Industry Association
  0422 889 871 (+61 4 2288 9871)
About AWIA:
The Australian Web Industry Association (AWIA) was formed in 2004 as a not-for-profit association which aims to:

  • Further the advancement of the web industry within Australia. 
  • Educate the general public about the role of professionals in the web industry. 
  • Foster greater ties with like-minded organisations

Further reading:
  Electronic Frontiers Australia – Mandatory Internet Filtering Fact Sheets
  Inquisitr – Australia Confirms Censorship Plans and Tells Fibs on the Filtering Trial
  ABC – Critics Blast “Great Firewall of Australia”

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As the professional body representing people working across a broad spectrum of the web industry, the Australian Web Industry Association (AWIA) objects to the Government’s plans to trial ISP filtering, with a view to introducing it nationally.

Despite the Government originally proposing an opt-in policy to filtering, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has confirmed a two-tier system: a mandatory one that would block all “illegal material” and an optional tier that would block material deemed unsuitable for children. Essentially this amounts to across-the-board censorship with no ability opt-out.

While we agree as a body, that is it important to protect children from offensive material, a filter is not the way to do this.

“Filtering the internet is like having a breath testing unit on everyone’s street and everyone needs to be tested before they drive up their own driveway,” AWIA spokesman Richard Giles said.

There is no efficient way to block information the Government deems inappropriate without blocking innocent material, which was proven in tests the Government did in 2008.

The tests showed:

  • An average success of 92% on content deemed “inappropriate.”
  • An average failure of 4%, where content was “innocuous” was blocked.

There are also legitimate concerns that ISP filtering will slow down the internet, by as much as 42 per cent. In Australia the web industry already faces slow access speeds and adding ISP filtering on top of this will only compound this problem and have flow-on effects for all working in the industry as well as for end-users.

This is a legitimate concern that should well be considered and has the potential to cripple Australian innovation in the web space – effectively it will cost everyone more in money and time -  from ISPs to businesses and individuals.

We feel the lack of understanding by the Government on the technical issues at hand is resulting in them taking an unnecessary action by effectively denying the Australian population the basic right to access the internet freely.

We urge the Government to talk to industry bodies to develop a better solution than current ISP filtering that will not have long-term effects on Australian innovation in the web industry.