Australia scraps plan to filter Internet

SYDNEY — Australia on Friday scrapped a controversial plan to filter the Internet, saying it will instead block hundreds of websites identified by Interpol as among the worst child abuse sites.

The center-left Labor government had pushed since 2007 for a mandatory Internet filter to protect children, to be administered by service providers, despite criticism it was impractical and set a precedent for censorship.

But Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the government had now reached an agreement with Internet providers that they would block “the worst of the worst” child abuse material that is available on the web to the public.

“We’ve actually reached agreement with the industry to block child pornography and we think that is a significant step forward,” he told ABC radio, adding that about 1,400 sites monitored by Interpol would be barred.

The minister said the step taken met “community expectations and fulfills the government’s commitment to preventing Australian Internet users from accessing child abuse material online.”

“Given this successful outcome, the government has no need to proceed with mandatory filtering legislation,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd pledged to introduce a mandatory Internet filter in 2007, with Internet service providers required to block all sites as identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The idea was that the filter would block access to material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse.

But web giants such as Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft had slammed the initiative as setting a precedent for censorship, while cyber-activists likened the proposed system to firewalls operating in China and Iran.

The plan, which had also drawn concern from the US State Department, was put on hold pending a content review in July 2010 as national elections loomed.

Online rights campaigners welcomed the decision as “a win for common sense” but said most child abuse material was not readily available on the open web.

The Australian Christian Lobby told the ABC a filter was needed to protect children from pornography and other unwholesome material.