Google protests Australian web censorship

BY ARI SHARP
Last updated 09:09 24/03/2010

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On the same day that it challenged China on internet freedom, the search engine giant Google has had its objections to the Australian attempt at internet filtering drawn into the public domain.

In the company's submission to an Australian government review of the transparency measures regarding its proposed internet filter, Google argued the model advocated by the government would enable future governments to use it for political censorship.

The Australian government has proposed an internet service provider filter that will prevent Australian internet users from accessing sites on a blacklist of content refused classification (RC) under Australian censorship laws.

The 174 submissions released yesterday reveal multiple objections by the industry and users to the relatively secret approach the government has taken to websites on the filter, but support from religious and family groups.

The Australian government is considering options including the listing decision made by either the Classification Board or the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the potential for appeals against decisions, the result when web users seek blocked sites, incorporation of items from international blacklists and review of the process by independent experts.

The government argues the filter is designed to block content such as child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, instruction in crime, drug use and material that advocates a terrorist act.

In response, Google says: ''There is a significant risk that filtering applied today to RC content could readily be extended by future governments to other forms of expression, whether related to sexual content or violence or not.''

It also rejects government claims the filter will have no noticeable effect on internet speeds. ''The filtering of material from high-volume sites (e.g. Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) appears to not be technologically possible, as it would have such a serious impact on internet access speeds.''

The company also argues there is a need for greater procedural fairness in the maintenance of the list, including notification to banned sites with a chance to argue their case.

Conservative group FamilyVoice Australia said there was ''no need to add additional layers of accountability such as independent reviewers or industry group review'' because government agencies already faced scrutiny from parliament.

The government-funded Australian Communications Consumer Action Network said there was no evidence voluntary filters were failing to meet public demand. The Australian Christian Lobby, which backs the filter, said it was important the blacklist was transparently compiled.

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The Australian Library and Information Association pointed out: ''It does not protect children against pornographic activities in the areas of peer-to-peer networking, instant messaging, torrents, direct emails and chat rooms.''

Australia's Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, said he was pleased with the level of interest. Submissions will be examined and there will be further consulting with internet service providers.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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