Australia Dumps Porn Filtering Campaign

Fri, Nov 09 2012 08:30am PST

CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian government has axed its “Cleanfeed” porn-filtering plan that's been shrouded in a campaign to fight spam and malware.

Backers of the plan — including the Australian Christian Lobby and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy — pushed the idea for the last five years claiming that the Cleanfeed filter would protect children from predators, a stance that received support from concerned parents.

The filter even passed a government trial and was expected to be adopted as national policy. It was positioned to censor “prohibited content” and then “refused classification” material, but the parameters were too broad and poorly defined.

Cleanfeed was continually criticized as being technically flawed and like most filters, easy to work around.

And when a secret Australian Communications and Media Authority blacklist of targeted websites —generated by Cleanfeed —  was outed by Wikileaks that harassed innocent local businesses, the revelation started a backlash.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Cleanfeed was opposed by online consumers, lobby groups, ISPs, network administrators, some children's welfare groups, Google, the U.S. Ambassador to Australia, and a number of government officials.

Opponents also feared the filtering would foster Internet censorship and new online restrictions.

“The filter would have been trivial to circumvent for those it was targeted at ... it would also have seriously impinged free speech in Australia as it was targeted at a very broad range of issues, using a secret blacklist,” Electronic Frontiers Australia spokesman Jon Lawrence told the Herald.

He maintained that the government was aware of the unpopular filtering plan as being “unworkable and a failed policy” for some time but played politics until it was safe to pull the plug.

Now, instead of the forced Cleanfeed filter, the government has switched gears and will focus its efforts on policing Interpol’s “worst of” list of child abuse websites. Conroy said Internet service providers (ISPs) have agreed to block 1,400 of these sites. Three of Australia's largest telecommunications companies — Telstra, Optus and Primus — have reportedly been blocking these sites since 2010.

"We've actually reached agreement with the industry to block child pornography and we think that is a significant step forward," Conroy told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

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