The University of Sydney IT Alumni Association (USITAA)

Media release - Making the internet safe: will isp filtering work?

The University of Sydney’s IT Alumni Association will next week bring together IT experts in networking, industry, law, child welfare and ethics to discuss the Federal Government’s plans to introduce compulsory internet filtering by Internet Service Providers.

The Federal Government has proposed legislation to mandate use of a ‘Refused Classification’ blacklist of Internet sites it seeks to have banned in Australia. Under planned changes to the Broadcasting Services Act, ISPs would be responsible for ensuring blacklisted sites are blocked in Australia.

This filtering policy has attracted a mixed response. While many applaud the intention to make the Internet more family-friendly, others say ISP level filtering brings with it a lack of efficacy, implications for freedom of expression and the potential to slow down the Internet. Measures under consideration in Australia have also caused diplomatic tension.

The discussion forum Australian Internet Filtering Scheme will see the University host experts from various walks of life to discuss the policy, weigh its benefits against its costs, and present possible alternatives.

“While the Government has a role in protecting vulnerable citizens from dangerous and offensive material, a list of blacklisted websites won’t effectively block such content from people’s computers,” says forum participant Associate Professor Bjorn Landfeldt from the University’s School of IT. “The ever-changing dynamism of the Internet makes this an exercise in futility.”

Google Australia’s Head of Policy Iarla Flynn will also participate in the forum. “If the proposed regime goes ahead, Australia will be alone amongst western democracies with a filter that is both mandatory and broadly scoped,” he says. “We welcome the opportunity from the University of Sydney IT Alumni Association to debate this important issue.”

Discussion Panel

Associate Professor Bjorn Landfeldt joined the University’s School of Information Technologies in 2004. He was part of a team commissioned by the Australian Government in 2008 to investigate the feasibility of implementing content filtering at the ISP level. He has acted as a spokesperson for the Computer Research and Education (CORE) in its opposition to this policy.

Iarla Flynn. Google’s change of policy in China made headlines around the world in recent weeks. The company is concerned the scope of Refused Classification in Australia is too broad, raising genuine questions about restricting access to information.

Louise Collins was the main author of the Feasibility of ISP Level Content Filtering report, published by the Government in December 2008. She has considerable industry experience in managing the issues and risks organisations must deal with when Government-mandated programs are implemented.

Jonathan Nicholas is Acting CEO at the Inspire Foundation, a national organisation established to prevent youth suicide and improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people. He has extensively researched the social impact of technology on youth.

David Vaile has been executive director of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at the University of New South Wales since 2002. His research interests include personal information security and safety online. He is working on a proposed collaborative ARC research project, Internet Content: Children and Young People, Filtering and Emerging Technologies. He is also on the board of the Australian Privacy Foundation.

Forum details:

This forum took place on 28 April 2010.