Sunday 17 December 2017

Australia web filter plans slammed

Internet giants Google and Yahoo have criticised Australia's proposal for a mandatory internet filter, calling it a heavy-handed measure that could restrict access to legal information.

Australian communications minister Stephen Conroy says the filter would block access to sites that include child pornography, sexual violence and detailed instructions of crime or drug use. The list of banned sites could be constantly updated, based on public complaints.

If adopted into law, the screening system would make Australia one of the strictest internet regulators among the world's democracies, and the proposal has put the country on the Reporters Without Borders annual "enemies of the internet" list.

The Google and Yahoo statements, among 174 comments from the public submitted to the Department of Communications on the filtering proposal, come amid a struggle between Google and China over censorship-free content.

Lucinda Barlow of Google Australia called the blocking measures of Australia and China "apples and oranges" but said her company is deeply concerned about Australia's proposal because of its mandatory and sweeping nature.

"Our primary concern is that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide," Google wrote in its submission, also suggesting the filter would slow browsing speeds.

The company said it already has its own filter to block child pornography.

"Some limits, like child pornography, are obvious. No Australian wants that to be available - and we agree," Google said. "But moving to a mandatory ISP-level filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy-handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information."

Ms Barlow said the proposal raises the possibility of banning politically and socially controversial material and goes beyond filters used in Germany and Canada, which block child pornography and, in Italy, gambling sites.

Yahoo made a similar contention, saying the filter would block many sites with controversial content - such as euthanasia discussion forums and gay and lesbian forums that discuss sexual experiences.

Press Association

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