Patch Monday: ISP filtering goes ‘voluntary’, plus updates

Australia’s mandatory internet filter is at least two years away, but Telstra and Optus are only weeks from implementing their “voluntary” equivalents. Where are we up to with this controversial issue?

That’s what I covered in yesterday’s Patch Monday podcast for ZDNet Australia. And as I explained on the weekend, I’m returning to my habit of doing a blog post here for each episode.

For this internet filtering update, I spoke with Peter Black, who teaches internet and media law at the Queensland University of Technology; network engineer Mark Newton; and Lyle Shelton, chief of staff for the Australian Christian Lobby.

You can listen below. But it’s probably better for my stats if you listen at ZDNet Australia or subscribe to the RSS feed or subscribe in iTunes.

Since this podcast was recorded, we’ve discovered that Primus isn’t so sure about voluntary filtering any more. They were the third ISP to commit to the plan last year. However the Internet Industry Association (IIA) has said most Australian ISPs will filter via the Interpol list this year.

Previous podcast on this issue covered the meaning of the Refused Classification content category, Senator Conroy’s announcement of the strategy in July 2010, and the apparent fact that parents don’t act on their cybersafety fears.

Please let me know what you think. Comments below. We accept audio comments too. Either Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

Attorneys-General, are you really up for reform?

[Update 22 July 2010: I failed to update my brain. The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General postponed their meeting thanks to the federal election. If only I’d re-read their website. Still, this means there’s now plenty of time to make the point.]

The other day, communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy called for a review of Refused Classification material online, something I called his “filter masterstroke”. With the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General due to meet in Perth tomorrow and Friday on 4 and 5 November 2010, I’m calling for them to review the whole classification system — not just online and not just RC.

Here’s what I just sent the NSW Attorney General, John Hatzistergos MLC (pictured):

The Hon John Hatzistergos MLC
Attorney-General of New South Wales
GPO Box 5341
Sydney NSW 2001

Fax +61 2 9228 3600

Review of Refused Classification

Dear Minister,

As you will be aware, Senator Stephen Conroy, Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has recommended that the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General review that category of online content called Refused Classification.

I urge you and your fellow Attorneys-General to extend that into a full review of the classification system, not just for the internet but for all media.

In brief, Australia’s classification system is currently an inconsistent mess. I doubt that it accurately reflects the mature, tolerant and robust Australian community standards of the 21st Century. Simply put, such a review is long overdue.

Irene Graham has documented in detail the state of Refused Classification in Australia at and it is clear that over the years the RC category has been extended in an ad hoc manner to include material well beyond the governments’ original intentions — in many cases without reference to parliaments, let alone to the people.

Looking through the rest of Ms Graham’s site, it is clear that for the last decade, and perhaps longer, more attention has been given to the views of vocal minority groups rather than to the peer-reviewed social research that is available. This must change.

It is also clear that many decisions have been made on the basis of content being perceived as “offensive” to people’s tastes, rather than any demonstrable risk of harm. It simply is not the government’s place to legislate on matters of taste.

Finally, this is the age of media convergence. It is ridiculous to have different classification standards for the same video material, for example, depending on whether it is delivered via broadcast television, a DVD in a shop or via the internet.

In no way should any of this be seen as wishing to relax the laws relating to criminal material such as child abuse material. But that is a matter for criminal law, not classification.

If you require any further details, please do not hesitate to contact me.


cc: The Hon Carmel Tebbutt MP, Member for Marrickville

It’s all very last-minute, but I reckon a lot of phone calls, faxes and emails to your state Attorney-General wouldn’t go astray.

Weekly Wrap 6

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets.



  • Patch Monday episode 48 in which I chat about “Conroy’s filter masterstroke”. With an election due to be announced today, Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has I think succeeded in taking the toxic topic of ISP-level internet filtering off the table by announcing a comprehensive review of the Refused Classification category. I chat through the implications with Peter Black, who teaches internet law at the Queensland University of Technology.
  • The interview I recorded last week for A Series of Tubes will be scrapped, as events have moved on. There will be an episode next week, ‘cos we’ve booked a recording session for Tuesday morning.

[Photo: Blurry at Museum station“, Sydney, taken on 14 July 2010.]