Google criticizes Canberra

CENSORSHIP?: Google Australia and Yahoo said the government’s proposed Internet filter goes beyond the ones used in other countries to block child pornography


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 - Page 4

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

Their statements were among 174 submissions to the Department of Communications related to the filtering policy.

Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who made the submissions public on Tuesday, has explained the filter would block access to sites that include child pornography, sexual violence and detailed instruction in crime.

Adopting a mandatory 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 “Enemies of the Internet” list.

“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.

Google said it already had its own filter to block child pornography.

“Some limits, like child pornography, are obvious. No Australian wants that to be available — and we agree,” the Google submission 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.”

Lucinda Barlow of Google Australia said yesterday that Australia’s proposal went beyond filters used in Germany and Canada, which block child pornography and, in Italy, gambling sites.

“This enters the gray realms of restricted classification, seeking to ban politically and socially controversial material,” Barlow told ABC.

Yahoo’s submission struck a similar note, saying the filter would block many sites that contain controversial information — such as euthanasia discussion forums, safe injection information, or gay and lesbian forums that discuss sexual experiences.

“There is enormous value in this content being available to encourage debate and inform opinion,” Yahoo’s submission said.

The filter would not block peer-to-peer file sharing nor prevent predators approaching children in chat programs or social-networking sites and both Google and Yahoo backed a national campaign to educate parents and children about safe use of the Internet.

Other submissions came from telecommunication firms, lobby groups and many individuals. Conroy said his department would consider the submissions before sending the final proposal to parliament.