Mandatory internet filter could become voluntary
The Federal Government appears to have changed its approach to the proposed mandatory internet filter, now claiming that internet providers could join a filtering scheme on a voluntary basis.
The Government has also flagged changes to the blacklist of banned websites, and is now considering having the secret list reviewed by an independent panel.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said in a Senate estimates committee yesterday that the Government could take two approaches to introducing a scheme, one mandatory and one voluntary.
"Mandatory ISP filtering would conceivably involve legislation ... voluntary is available currently to ISPs," Conroy said.
"One option is potentially legislation. One other option is that it could be (on a) voluntary basis that they (ISPs) could voluntarily agree to introduce it."
The comments are the first indication that the Government would consider a voluntary code, after having spent the last 18 months declaring the filter would be mandatory for all ISPs.
Senator Conroy has scaled back some elements of the filter recently, including changing the definition of content to be blocked from "unwanted content" to "content that is refused classification".
The changes may be a response to widespread criticism of the filter, with industry groups claiming it would slow internet speeds by over 80% and may inadvertently block the websites of innocent individuals and businesses.
Meanwhile, Conroy said in the same hearing that the Government is "considering options for greater transparency and accountability in respect of the blacklist".
A regular review of the list by a committee or independent panel may be formed, as well as a regular review of complaints made about the list.
The blacklist is maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and would form the list of sites to be blocked under a mandatory filter. A form of the blacklist was recently leaked to whistle-blower website "Wikileaks".
Several internet service providers are now undergoing trials of a filtering system, with results to be delivered to the Government in either July or August.
Senator Conroy did not return calls by the time of publication.