Sun, May 28, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Tasmania hostslatest attempt tocensor Internet

By Ben Sandilands  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

At face value the state of Tasmania is about to become a testing ground for keeping the Internet free of violent and pornographic content.

A conservative senator, Guy Barnett, has organized a trial in which Internet service providers (ISPs) will use filtering software from three different companies to prevent offensive content reaching any Web surfer in the small Australian island state.

This is the reverse of the current Australian situation, where ISPs provide free or non-profit access to optional content filters for customers concerned at the risk of their children being exposed to dangerous and depraved Web sites.

But problems have arisen.

Australia's two largest telephone and Internet companies, Telstra and Optus, have refused to take part, saying the country already has the world's best defenses against "Web nasties" especially those involving child pornography.

This means four in five Tasmanian families with Internet connections will not be involved in the experiment.

And one of the software firms, Internet Sheriff Technologies, says its main interest isn't so much in stopping pornography but demonstrating a filtering technology it might sell to Asia-Pacific nations with censorship laws and repressive controls over the flow of information that might inform or inflame political dissent.

Internet Sheriff's sales director Glen Phillips says ISPs in China were among his list of potential buyers, a market where US Internet technology giant Google has already controversially agreed to provide filters to gag sites not approved by Beijing from being accessed by its search engine.

However the three-month trial will still go ahead from July, much to the dismay of the Canberra-based Internet Industry Association which largely designed the current Australian system for curbing Internet content that puts children at risk.

The association's executive director Peter Coroneos, says trying to filter the Internet at the ISPs that provide connections to the world wide Web means slashing the actual speed of broadband by up four-fifths.

"Literally every item requested by the tens of thousands of subscribers who may be using the Web or doing their email at any moment in time will have to be run through computational filters looking for rude words, obscene images, or banned links to known pornographic sites," says Coroneos.

"The consequences for Internet commerce, personal correspondence and all of the other things for which the Internet has become such an essential tool will be compromised badly for a goal which is actually technically impossible to fully achieve," he adds.

Other industry experts have already pointed out that Australians of Asian descent with such common names as Bum or Suk might be unable to do online financial transactions that require them to confirm for example, their given names on a credit card.

Even online newspaper reports of court cases involving evidence of crimes against children, or quotations from sermons condemning child pornography, are themselves at risk of being blocked from view because of the words contained in them.

And such famous Australian brands of sports clothing as Spank or Aussiebum would send the filters into melt down.

Coroneos says the Tasmanian experiment in Internet purity is in reality a nonsense for many more reasons than these.

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