Measures to improve safety of the internet for families
Treasury Place, Melbourne
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Thank you all very much for coming along.
Today, I am announcing new measures to help Australian families stay safer when they are online.
The internet offers a world of opportunity but it is important that families have the tools they need to confront online problems.
The Government has always maintained there is no silver-bullet solution to cyber-safety.
That is why we have pursued a comprehensive suite of measures to address the range of issues and challenges faced by families when they are online.
This includes funding for 91 Australian Federal Police officers to the Child Protection Operations Team, as well as education programs and research.
Today we are announcing new measures.
These measures include:
- The introduction of mandatory ISP-level filtering of Refused Classification (RC)–rated content.
- A grants program to encourage ISPs to offer, on a commercial basis, additional optional ISP-level filtering services for wider categories of content identified by households.
- Increased funding for a range of education, awareness and counseling services.
Today, I am also releasing the Enex Testlabs report into the pilot trial of ISP level filtering.
Our approach has been informed by the constructive input by Australia’s four largest ISPs – Telstra, Optus, iiNet and Primus, and I thank Ravi Bhatia from Primus for attending today.
These ISPs who account for more than 80% of internet users in Australia, came forward with a set of principles which the Government has taken into account, in coming to this position.
Most Australians acknowledge that there is some internet content which is not acceptable in any civilised society.
It is important that all Australians, particularly young children, are protected from this material.
No one can currently host RC material in Australia.
To strengthen cyber-safety the Government will introduce legislative amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act, to require all ISPs to block material rated Refused Classification that is hosted on overseas servers and therefore not subject to the existing take-down regime.
Refused Classification, or RC-rated material includes child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence including rape and the detailed instruction of crime or drug use.
The criteria for Refused Classification is determined by the National Classification Board and is underpinned by legislation.
It requires the agreement by all States and Territories.
The classification guidelines are reviewed periodically to ensure they reflect community standards.
Under the National Classification Scheme and related enforcement legislation, it is already illegal to distribute, sell or make available for hire RC-rated films, computer games and publications.
The Government believes that parents want assistance to reduce the risk of children being exposed to such material.
Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that 60 per cent of 5-8 year-olds in Australia now use the internet.
Earlier this year the Government undertook an independent live pilot of ISP-level filtering.
Our pilot, and the experience of ISPs in many western democracies, shows that ISP level-filtering of a defined list of URLs can be delivered with 100 per cent accuracy.
It also demonstrated that it can be done with negligible impact on internet speed.
Telstra undertook its own testing that showed the impact on internet performance would be 70-times less than the blink of an eye.
Testing under our live pilot involved nine ISPs of varying sizes filtering the existing ACMA blacklist, which is a defined list of URLs.
The pilot was undertaken by a highly reputable and independent testing company, Enex TestLab.
As I said, the report into the pilot trial has now been released and is available online from the department’s web site.
We expect to introduce legislation during the Autumn 2010 parliamentary sittings.
There will be a twelve months process of implementation after the passage of the legislation.
Under our ISP-level filtering policy, the RC Content list will be compiled through a public complaints mechanism.
The Government will also add the specific internet addresses (or URLs) of known child abuse material through sharing lists with highly-regarded international agencies, after an assessment of the rigour and accountability of classification processes used by these agencies.
Today, I am releasing a discussion paper to begin a public consultation on additional measures to improve the accountability and transparency of processes that lead to RC-rated material being placed on the RC content list.
This paper will raise options such as:
- referring all RC-rated material to the Classification Board,
- the use of block pages and appeal mechanisms if people believe content has been incorrectly blocked, and
- a review by an independent expert and report to the Parliament.
Additionally, the Government will allocate funds to ACMA to enhance the security of the RC content list and to automate its transmission to ISPs.
My department and ACMA will consult with ISPs on the detailed implementation of ISP-level filtering, including the updating of relevant industry Codes of Practice.
The Government will discuss with industry, measures to help smaller ISPs to filter the RC content list if they cannot access a filtered wholesale or resold service.
The Minister for Home Affairs yesterday announced a public consultation process into whether there should be an R18+ classification category for computer games.
Until this process is complete, online computer games will be excluded from mandatory filtering of RC content.
Our election policy included a commitment to help parents to filter other content that they deem is offensive, if they choose to do so.
The RC-rated content list cannot deal with the range of material that may be judged by different people, or different parents, as offensive or inappropriate for viewing by children, including X18+ and gambling sites.
Therefore a mechanism to allow consumers the option to access additional ISP level filtering products is required.
These additional filtering services will help parents to choose what they want filtered without having to download and install software to their home computers.
To encourage more ISPs to offer such services, we will implement a grant program to offset some of the costs.
This measure will not be mandatory for ISPs.
This program could be used by participating ISPs to also implement their RC-rated content-filtering requirement where the same technology can be used.
I encourage ISPs to register with the department for participation in consultations on the technical aspects of this proposal.
EDUCATION, AWARENESS AND COUNSELLING
With the increasing use of the internet by young people, we must not only continue our existing cyber-safety education, awareness and counselling programs but enhance these.
Under the measures we announce today, ACMA will devote resources for additional cyber-safety education, awareness and counselling programs.
ACMA already performs an outstanding job providing a range of programs and resources under the Cyber-Smart Online banner.
This will assist more parents and teachers to help more children understand and deal with cyber-safety risks, including cyber-bullying.
It will reduce waiting times for schools to participate in ACMA’s cyber-safety outreach program, and increase the Cyber-safety Online Helpline operating hours to ensure it is available when children are most at risk.
I am aware that there have been claims made as to the technical feasibility of filtering.
The live trial has shown that filtering of a defined list of URLs can be done with 100% accuracy and negligible impact on network performance – despite the many claims that have been touted.
ISP level filtering is a useful measure as part of an overall cyber-safety plan.
The Government should do all that it can to protect Australians from exposure to RC-rated content.
The Government’s strategy consists of a range of measures:
- Educate—through outreach activities at schools, research, awareness-raising and counselling;
- Reduce Exposure—through mandatory filtering of RC material, expansion of the RC content list to incorporate more child sexual abuse material hosted overseas, and optional filtering for additional material as determined by families; and
- Enforce—through specific funding for law enforcement and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Around 15 western democracies have taken steps to either encourage ISPs to implement filtering or to require it.
There is no reason Australian consumers should not have similar protection.
The Government’s comprehensive range of cyber-safety measures provides Australians with information and tools to access the benefits of the internet while reducing its risks and pitfalls.