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Australia Brings New Net Censorship

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When Kevin Rudd was campaigning to become Labor prime minister of Australia last year, he promised an Internet content-filtering scheme that was essentially censorship to protect the nation’s youth.

Once he had the post, the government announced the scheme, its Plan for Cyber-Safety, and there are plans for live trials of ISP-level content filtering before Christmas, according to the Guardian.

The plan, which will cost around $80 million US, was put together by Senator Stephen Conroy, the minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy, and is intended to protect children from pornography and violent websites while bringing an outright ban of illegal material.

ISPs will have to deliver a so-called “clean feed” to homes, schools and other Internet access points. One blacklist will ban all illegal material, including child pornography, and a second will ban things thought unsuitable for kids, as ruled by by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Consumers can only opt out of the second list.

Senator Conroy said:

"Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road. If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the government is going to disagree."

However, the move doesn’t appear popular. One online poll by a Queensland newspaper revealed that some 86% of respondents do not support the scheme, and there are worries it could slow Internet speeds by 30%.

Colin Jacobs of Electronic Frontiers Australia, said:

"I’m not exaggerating when I say that this model involved more technical interference in the internet infrastructure that what is attempted in Iran, one of the most regressive censorship regimes in the world."

In testing, the system hasn’t performed well, proving inaccurate and slowing Internet speeds. The filters don’t affect peer-to-peer file sharing, which accounts for 60% of Australia’s Internet traffic.

The Australian government has tried a similar thing before with its NetAlert filters, which were hacked by a 16-year-old in just 30 minutes. The government then added another filter layer, which he breached in 10 minutes.