Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, says the govt needs time to review the Refused Classification guidelines that determine what will and will not be blocked. The process is expected to take at least 12 months.
Merely days after Australia’s new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, reaffirmed her govt’s commitment to impose “voluntary mandatory” ISP filtering of all “inappropriate content” and “offensive and illegal material,” the country’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, has announced that the govt will now delay the plan for at least a year as it conducts a series of transparency and accountability measures to accompany the introduction of ISP filtering of Refused Classification content.
It will review what what kind of content will fall under the Refused Classification which now includes child abuse material, bestiality, extreme violence including rape, detailed instruction in crime or drug use, and incitement of a terrorist act.
The concern has always been that there is no public review of sites placed on the blacklist, no way to ensure that URLs are correctly labeled RC, so Senator Conroy has decided that there needs to be an independent review and appeals process.
“The RC content list of URLs provides direct access to child abuse material so it cannot be published the way a list of prohibited book titles or movies can be,” Senator Conroy said. “The public needs to have confidence that the URLs on the list, and the process by which they get there, is independent, rigorous, free from interference or influence and enables content and site owners access to appropriate review mechanisms.”
To imbue the public with confidence he plans the following measures:
- an annual review of the RC Content list by an independent expert who will be appointed in consultation with industry;
- clear avenues for appeal of classification decisions;
- that all content identified on the basis of a public complaint be classified by the Classification Board under the National Classification Scheme; and
- that affected parties have the ability to have decisions reviewed by the Classification Review Board;
Another key measure will be the use of a standardized block page notification, which will allow ISPs to notify users that the content they have requested has been blocked because it is deemed Refused Classification, and how to seek a review of that decision if they believe the decision to be incorrect.
“Some sections of the community have expressed concern about whether the range of material included in the RC category, under the National Classification Scheme, correctly reflects current community standards,” added Senator Conroy.
“The review would examine the current scope of the existing RC classification, and whether it adequately reflects community standards.”
Part if the problem with a broad ban on RC content is that it will also block sites that host or sell video games that don’t meet the MA15+ standard (suitable for 15yos) being that Australia lacks an R18+ or X18+ classification. It’s not clear if Senator Conroy’s review will address this.
“While we welcome a review of the RC category, this is just tinkering around the edges of the filter’s problems,” said Electronic Frontiers Australia Chair Colin Jacobs. “Applying a classification scheme designed for books and movies to the internet was never going to work. Altering the definition of one category won’t change the fact that the government will never, ever, be able to review enough web pages to make any difference to anyone.”
The best filter is and always will be parents when it comes to protecting children, and relying on the govt to do it for them gives parents a false sense of security.
“Adult supervision should be front and centre of the effort to improve online safety, a responsibility accepted by most parents, grandparents, teachers and careers,” said then Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Nick Minchin last january. “There is no technological substitute for adult supervision and it’s irresponsible and misleading to infer otherwise.
The best filter of all is the one between people’s ears. Let’s hope that from a year from now the govt has decided to focus on training children and adults to use that one instead.