It is disappointing to read that the Rudd Government’s practically universally criticised Internet content filtering plan is slowly trundling onwards. Some controlled testing of ISP-level content filtering is reportedly set to take place in Tasmania, with tests scheduled to complete in July 2008. This is despite the ACMA’s own advice that filtering social networking sites (and indeed, blogs) is likely to prove a challenge for any content filtering system, and that education is likely a better method for modulating access to questionable material.
If the government needed any more persuading that its internet content filtering plan needs to be buried in a hurry, it doesn’t need to look much further than this story from Mark Sweney in The Guardian today. Matt Lambert, Microsoft’s Head of Corporate Affairs, had this to say about top-down online content filtering such as the scheme being progressed by Federal Labor:
But Lambert rejected the idea of a mandatory setting of content filters to a high security level, arguing that it would block too much content that posed no risk to children.Lambert said a better solution would be for parents to be better educated about what their children are looking at online and what content filters are available.
“Setting [filtering controls] at a high level is the equivalent to blocking the internet … it would be living in the dark ages in my view.”
I would be interested to know just how many dollars are being wasted pursuing this sensationalist, curiously backward initiative each day. If the Federal Opposition are looking for a dud policy from Labor to score some easy points on, it is quite unlikely to find one more useful than this. The whole concept seems to only continue to survive on the scent of an oily rag; namely pandering to social conservatives who wouldn’t know what the Internet was if it bit them on the arse. Or what top-down content filtering really means until they can’t find websites describing certain anatomical body parts or “swear words” without calling Telstra and having the rest of the Internet turned back on.
Different people will want different levels of restrictions on content, and the government’s universalist approach on this issue is bound to please just about nobody. Some will be upset that the content filtering does not go far enough. Some will be upset that it goes too far. The numbers of people who are happy with what content is being filtered out are likely to be quite small at the end of the day.