Tasmania Experiments With Web Filtering

Steve Javors
LAUNCESTON, Tasmania — The island of Tasmania is experimenting with using filtering technology on a trial basis at the ISP level, blocking access to websites containing pornography and violence. Liberal Sen. Guy Barnett introduced the legislation to Communications Minister Helen Coonan, along with joint support from U.S.-based RuleSpace and Internet Sheriff Technology.

The “clean feed” trial affects half of the country’s Internet users, as Optra and Telstra, the nation’s two largest providers have yet to sign on. The filtering technology being employed is proprietary to the users’ Internet service provider, eliminating the need to download additional software. The filter works for both private and public usage.

In initiating the legislation, Sen. Barnett cited a 2003 survey by the Australia Institute that found 93 percent of parents were in favor of filtering out adult content available on their home computers. “I will not roll over on this issue. I will continue to pursue this in the best interests of Australian children,” Barnett told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The ambitious proposal by Barnett comes on the heels of Australia limiting access to all potentially offensive websites by giving the Australian Communications and Media Authority the task of categorizing questionable sites. ISPs would then consult a list of banned sites before granting Internet access.

Coogan initially met Barnett’s plan with resistance initially, stating, “Labor’s plans to force Internet service providers to filter the Internet will only result in slowing down the Internet for every Australian without effectively protecting children from inappropriate and offensive content.” Coonan previously shot down a Labor Party proposal to begin nationwide filtering at the ISP level. Under the plan, users would have had the ability to “opt out” by contacting their ISPs.

Coogan then reversed tack on the issue, saying, “The Government has not ruled out ISP-based filtering and is currently undertaking a trial in Tasmania in conjunction with the Internet safety agency NetAlert.”

Results from the Tasmanian filtering study should be available soon, and there is speculation it could expand nationwide if successful.