Opinion: What Is Good Australian Government Filter Policy Anyway?

Giz is no fan of the current government’s mandatory filtering proposal, but the history of Australian government net filtering is rife with wasted money and wasted opportunities. Realistically, though, what should any government be doing?

Also: Should You Act On ACTA? What Australians Need To Know

The thought was spiked in my head yesterday reading an ITNews piece that reported that Tony Abbot had formed a “Cybersafety” panel, headed up by former Optus executive (and current Liberal MP) Paul Fletcher. The Coalition panel is tasked with investigating the roles of the ACMA, AFP, ISPs and (essentially) anyone with a stake in online safety.

It appears that it’s heavily looking back to the Howard Government’s Netalert plans, and while I do think there’s something laudable in having an optional (rather than mandatory) filter, the statistics for Netalert were, in final analysis, rather embarrassing; despite a $15 million advertising spend promoting the scheme, by the time the current government wound it up, something like 1 per cent of Australian parents were actually using a Netalert provided filter. Meanwhile, the current government has spent god knows how much money on a mandatory filtering proposal that is still part of policy, even if timetables for its implementation have slipped, slid and skidded all over the information superhighway.*

Or, in other words, no matter what side of politics you happen to sit on, a lot of time and money’s been spent on net filtering with not much in the way of solid results.

This seems to me to be an excellent discussion point; what’s the best possible approach? Mandatory filtering is a daft idea — too easily circumvented, expensive to keep track of — but should governments be involved in filtering of other kinds, and if so, how?

Clearly if the opposition’s making statements about internet filtering, it’s being seen as an electable issue (again), but what’s the best approach? Australian parents seem remarkably reluctant to take up self-downloaded filters, but is that a bad thing? Should IT vendors be giving them away with every laptop? Is it all a moot issue with the rise of tablets and smartphones?

*As per classical rules of internet journalism, I’m obliged to use the phrase “information superhighway” once a decade in articles. Just thought I’d get it out of the way here.

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