Internet filtering trials begin!

I’ve finally had time to ponder The Australian‘s report on Internet filtering trials that I mentioned yesterday. While it describes the current status, the deeper message seems to be that the government doesn’t actually have a plan for this at all.

Yesterday was the deadline for purveyors of filters to register their interest with Enex TestLab, the Melbourne company running the trials. As they said in a newspaper ad:

We invite vendors of all types (hardware appliances, software — proprietary or open-source) of ISP-based internet content filters to participate.

The products will be tested in a “controlled environment” (i.e. the lab) in the first half of 2008, and then the “field trials” happen in the second half.

But looking at the original request for tender at AusTender, this “just” seems to be another exercise in seeing what’s available in the marketplace, rather than providing a “solution” [ugh!] which implements specific policy goals.

The successful tenderer will be responsible for establishing a test environment and reporting on:

  • the effectiveness of content filtering products at the ISP level in blocking illegal and inappropriate content;
  • determining whether the operation of content filtering products at the ISP level would introduce delays into an ISP’s network;
  • an analysis of the features presently available in content filtering products at the ISP level; and
  • what capabilities current products have in regards to filtering non web-based content.

In one sense this is all well and good: the government is evaluating products before purchase. That certainly makes a change from the previous government’s purchase of Super Hornets! But a really, really important step has been skipped: defining the policy goal in clean, unambiguous and testable form.

No-one seems to be willing or able to explain “inappropriate”.

And maybe that’s the point. It’s the government’s job to create the laws that we want and administer them, not make value judgements about “propriety” — which is about “conventionally accepted standards of behaviour or morality”.

And why is the government treating the Internet so differently from other communication media?

As Rick Welykochy said earlier today:

I’d bet my lunch that most Australian parents consider that violence on TV and film is not appropriate for children and probably does cause some behavioural harm.

If this government is going to embark on a journey of censoring broadcast media like the Internet, it would only seem logical that they also do the same for all broadcast media. To single out just one medium would be hypocritical and politically self-serving, with reduced benefit to society. Or one would think.

Which begs the question of how we currently protect children from inappropriate content. Would it be that up to now, adult supervision has been adequate in providing this protection? And why cannot the same supervision be provided for the Internet?

Why indeed. Any theories? Might it maybe have something to do with the fact that politicians still see the “old media” proprietors as powerful brokers, people who wouldn’t take kindly to suggestions of a compulsory filter on TV sets?

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