Call it an ISP filter Kevin but your logic leaks like a sieve
Much like handing out condoms with the tip cut off won’t help fight STDs, the Rudd Government’s plan to filter the internet of Refused Classification material won’t make the internet safe for children.
Before the 2007 election Labor promised they would “ensure that children are protected from harmful and inappropriate online material” by introducing mandatory content filtering of all websites at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level.
One might have thought that they were promising to make the internet safe for children. It certainly sounded like it. With the great firewall of Australia in place parents would be able leave their children in the capable hands of Uncle Kevin, net nanny extraordinaire.
Somehow, when promising to clean up the internet, they forgot to say what exactly it was they were going to protect kids from. Cyber bullying? Information about drugs, suicide or cults? Pornography perhaps? Surely kids shouldn’t be seeing any of these things online. Lucky for mum and dad Uncle Kev is on the case cleaning up the net.
Or is he? Ever since Labor announced its policy I’ve been trying to find out exactly what would be blocked. The story appears to have changed month by month – sometimes it’s all pornography, sometimes X rated material, sometimes inappropriate content. But now it seems to be stuff that’s already illegal – content that has been Refused Classification.
So while mum and dad are busy cooking dinner and Uncle Kev is meant to be looking after the kids on the internet, they will still be able to access pornography, information about drugs and unsuspectingly chat away with goodness knows who in chat rooms – hardly being kept safe from inappropriate content!
Originally the government proposed a very broad filter that would provide a ‘clean feed’ to each and every internet user, whether you wanted it or not. The notion of a ‘clean feed’ that protects children from “harmful and inappropriate online material” would have been a compulsory ISP level filter of such scale that China and Iran might have felt a little filter envy.
However, many experts believe a compulsory ISP level filter would result in the decimation of internet speeds and force serious restrictions on free speech. The more you filter, the greater the impact on speeds. And, the more you try to filter, the more likely you are to block access to material that law-abiding adults would legitimately want to access.
What do governments do when confronted by such obstacles to a key election promise? They conduct studies and trials of course. A few weeks ago they received their latest trial results from Enex Testlab. That we still don’t know the results of these trials suggest they are caught somewhere between the proverbial rock and the hard place, both of which were of their own making.
If widespread filtering of a ‘save the kiddies’ level is possible, he risks filtering online content to such a level it will create howls of outrage from those accidentally caught by wide-ranging filters or those who object to having to ‘opt-out’ of such filtering.
If it’s not feasible to filter out all of the nasties , then he must confront the ‘why bother’ argument – why bother with the cost and hassle of filtering only the nastiest of all the nasty content if the internet still won’t be safe for children without extensive additional filtering or supervision?
Surely the government would be better off investing the tens of millions of dollars set to be blown on compulsorily filtering on developing the best possible in-home, school or library internet filters that would let parents control what level of filtering they deem appropriate for their children. Such filters can genuinely protect children, without compromising the rest of the online world.
Of course they won’t do this, because backing down on the compulsory ISP filtering would be a loss of face and an admission that the previous government’s strategy of educating and empowering parents was a far more practical response to this issue.
So when compulsory filtering comes, beware, because lulling parents into a false sense of security about their child’s safety online could be just as dangerous, if not more so, than not filtering at all. It will certainly fall a long way short of sitting down with children and teaching them yourselves what is and is not appropriate online.
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