Karl Stefanovic: [Australia?]’s plan for a new internet filter has been widely criticised by service providers who say it will be ineffective and slow down the speed of internet traffic. Internet expert Mark Newton joins us now. Mark – not just the experts up in arms about this, but plenty of our viewers are as well. You don’t back it either?
Mark Newton: Absolutely not. I think it’s an outrageous idea that the Government seems to believe that, unlike every other Western democracy in the world, Australian parents actually need an idea like this to help bring up their children. And it’s just beneath contempt.
Karl: What precisely are they going to cut out, and who is going to be the moral adjudicator?
Mark: Well – the first part of your question is actually a little bit difficult to answer, because the Minister has been so evasive about it. He was in Parliament a couple of days ago, saying that the Government will be blocking “unwanted” material, but he hasn’t been drawn on what “unwanted” actually means. There’s a Government agency called ACMA which currently maintains a list of material that’s unsuitable for children. The Minister has said in the Parliament over the past few weeks that that’s the basis of the blacklist that will be applied to adults.
Karl: It does sound draconian just in principle; but balancing that, against that, is the fact that a lot of parents want to protect their kids against online pornography, and I think that that is an important thing to do as well. But can’t we do that – how do we do that effectively at home?
Mark: Yeah, that’s one of the more interesting aspects of this debate. The Government has come out proposing that putting mandatory filtering in ISPs is actually the best way of achieving that aim. I don’t think anybody argues that the aim is important; but one of the serious deficiencies that putting filtering in ISPs has is that is removes the ability for parents to use their own discretion to make decision about what is best for their children. Because whatever the ISP blocks is whatever the parent ends up getting.
There is software which is widely available – until December, the Government’s even providing it for free – which parents can install on their own PCs. And then they can make their own decisions about what their children can see. You don’t even need to go that far – something as simple as putting the family computer in the family room instead of in a child’s bedroom is a perfect way of making sure that there’s adequate supervision.
Karl: Mark, I know that you’re probably biased, but I’m not seeing a whole lot of positives here for this plan. You’re saying that it’s not practical; that it’s not going to work; that it’s going to slow down the internet if you are using it; I dunno. Is it going to go ahead? Is it going to get approval?
Mark: Well, it’s interesting. The Government has done testing ever since 1999. They’ve engaged the CSIRO, RMIT, Ovum, a couple of tests with Enex test lab, and now they’re about to start some live trials. Every single one of those tests says the same answers, which is what you just related to me then. Which is that it doesn’t work, it slows the internet down, it’s expensive, you end up with overblocking and underblocking problems. And every time they get a test that says something like that, they say, “Hmm. I don’t like the answer. Let’s do another test.” It’s like they keep cranking the handle until they get the answer that they want. And so here we are in 2008: it’s really the same proposal that came up in 1999, and I’m not sure if the Minister realises, but the internet’s moved on a little bit since then.
Karl: [laughs] Well, I reckon that they could probably start with preventing political ads and political websites. If we were all protected from those, we’d be better off. Thank you very much for that Mark, we appreciate your time today . I don’t reckon that is gonna get up, but we’ll see. Cheers mate.
Mark: Thanks for having me.