Australian Official Implementing Internet Antiporn Program

Tod Hunter
CANBERRA, Australia — Australian Prime Minister John Howard, facing re-election later this year, has started to implement a plan to block adult material on the Internet, a program that he proposed last week in an online speech to 900 Christian churches across Australia.

The program, called "Protecting Australian Families Online," will cost $133 million and will start Aug. 20. It will be operated by NetAlert, Australia’s Internet safety advisory body.

Almost half of the funds — $60 million — will go into a filtering program offered to individual homes and public libraries. Parents can install filtering software on their home computers or request a "clean" connection from their service provider, which will be responsible for blocking adult content at the ISP level.

The program also calls for a $15.5 million awareness plan to "inform parents and (caretakers) of children about online safety issues and provide information about where they can go to receive support and assistance," and 10 new Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Internet safety officers who will visit schools to talk about online dangers.

"Web police" will be added to the Online Child Sex Exploitation Team, which will receive $30 million to pay 36 new agents, bringing the total force to 90 by 2009-10. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions also will receive funding for an expected increase in prosecutions. Other changes include an extension of the ACMA Blacklist, which already includes adult material that has been denied classification, to cover malicious software and terror sites.

Blocking filters should be available to users by the end of August, but ISP-level blocking may be delayed. The ACMA currently is planning a trial of ISP-level filtering in Tasmania that will help the government plan a national launch.

The Australian government already has examined ISP-level filtering three times, the first in 1999.

Following the most recent trial, Communications Minister Helen Coonan said, "Each report has found significant problems with content filter products operating at the ISP-level ... The Australian trials have also found the effect on performance of the Internet by ISP filtering to be substantial and [there is] a lack of scalability of the filters to larger ISPs.

"Unfortunately, no single measure alone can protect children from online harm and, in fact, traditional parenting skills have never been more important."