Australia to Subsidize Internet Filter

Steve Javors
SYDNEY — Having explored many options to keep children from accessing pornography, Australian Communications Minister Helen Coonan has decided on a federal subsidy for parents who buy filtering software for their home computers.

The government also will ramp up funding to NetAlert, the Internet safety board, and launch a public information campaign. Public libraries will have to install filtering software, as well.

Blocking access to adult material online is a prime objective of the Australian government in the lead up to next year’s elections, the Sydney Herald wrote.

“It is the fundamental right of all Australians to access the Internet free of pornography and offensive material,” Liberal Party Sen. Guy Barnett said.

“I’m hopeful of a positive response from the Howard Government to the concerns and recommendations of more than 60 backbenchers,” said Barnett, referring to the 62 senators that signed a letter to Prime Minister John Howard asking him to ban offensive websites.

The Labor party favors Internet filtering at the ISP level, where providers would supply a so-called “clean feed” stripped of adult and questionable content. Coonan does not support this method, preferring a filter at the individual PC-based level.

“You can get a customized and safe experience that looks after emails, chat rooms and peer-to-peer file downloading in a much more effective way than simply blocking half the Internet and slowing it down so that nobody can use it, even for innocent purposes,” Coonan told Parliament. “Clean feed is anything but clean — it does not block all pornography or other offensive sites and does not make the Internet safe.”

According to a government study, the prohibitive cost of applying filtering at the ISP level would be too onerous to implement. The study found startup costs would be $45 million, with $33 million needed yearly to keep it up and running.

NetAlert published a recent study that found ISP filtering would slow network performance by 18 percent for even the best performing filter.

“Filtering content at the desktop will have a better success rate to stop porn being accessed by children without impacting the genuine rights of the entire population,” Netspace’s Stuart Marburg wrote.

It was not immediately clear how much money the government intends to subsidize families that will be purchasing filtering software.