Innovation

Coalition backflips on internet filter policy hours after announcement

Helen Alexander /

In less than 24 hours the Coalition has back-flipped on its stance regarding internet filters, sparking widespread concern and confusion.

In a last-minute bungle, the party released a policy yesterday stating plans to enforce an opt-out internet filter (despite having previously opposed the measure), but merely a few hours later it changed its mind.

Hidden in the Coalition’s policy to Enhance Online Safety for Children, it initially stated the Liberal Party would adopt a UK-style filter designed for children up to 12 years and teenagers.

“We will work with mobile phone companies (such as Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and their resellers) to develop online safety standards for smartphones and other devices with mobile network connectivity such as tablets,” it said.

“As has recently been achieved in the UK, we expect these standards will involve mobile phone operators installing adult content filters on phones which will be switched on as default unless the customer proves he or she is at least 18 years of age.”

The filter was also going to apply to home networks and all new home broadband services would have the filter switched on as default unless otherwise specified.

Following the announcement Coalition communications spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull was interviewed by Triple J’s Hack program and he defended the opt-out filter.

The Coalition back-peddled a few hours later, with Turnbull then issuing a statement saying the Coalition was opposed to mandatory internet filtering.

“We have a long record of opposing it (a mandatory internet filter).”

“The policy which was issued today by was (sic) poorly worded and incorrectly indicated that the Coalition supported an “opt out” system of internet filtering for both mobile and fixed line services. That is not our policy and never has been,” Turnbull says.

The Coalition went on to change the wording of its policy to reflect a Howard-era approach to internet filtering, saying it will make software available to parents to install on devices which will “protect their children from inappropriate material”.

Coalition leader Tony Abbott was also forced to respond, telling reporters in Melbourne yesterday he’d quickly read the policy, but “thought it was a reference to the ability of people to get a PC-based filter”.

The whole mishap has been criticised by IT analysts, media commentators, and the general public, with many now concerned the “poorly worded” policy was a true reflection of Coalition intentions or a sign of incompetence.

Internet expert Dr Mark Gregory of RMIT’s school of electrical and computer engineering told SmartCompany people are concerned about what content would be filtered.

“I don’t think anyone is reasonably against filtering things on Interpol’s blacklist, filtering of those items has been going on since the last big debate.”

“The announcement from the Coalition was a bit of a disaster. Two days out of the election you don’t let bombshells like this go,” he says.

Last year, the Labor Party ditched its plans for an internet filter after it was strongly criticised, instead choosing to rely on the federal police to block child pornography websites and those deemed “worst of” on Interpol’s database.

Gregory says people are also worried an internet filter would lead to more tracking of what people are browsing and possibly slow down the internet if it’s not run correctly.

“People are concerned that if information is being filtered and you try and access filtered information, people will know and you will become a red flag on someone’s desktop,” he says.

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