I’ve said it again, and again – what is it about internet censorship that leads to the complete departure of reason (and yes, yes, yes, I know, it’s an election year). Sigh grumble grumble.

I nearly choked over my wheaties this morning when I saw this story on the front page of the newspaper, according to which:

INTERNET service providers will be forced to filter web content at the request of parents, under a $189 million Federal Government crackdown on online bad language, pornography and child sex predators.

Let me see, which countries use ISP or country level filtering? China … Saudi Arabia … Thailand … Kazakhstan … Georgia … Iran … Sudan … Malaysia … Tunisia … Uzbekistan… Belarus. Yes, there’s a set of countries I aspire to join.

Now, admittedly, the proposal seems to have ISP level filtering ‘on request’, rather than entirely imposed from above. Unlike the Chinese, Australians will have choice about whether to have their internet service filtered (at least to some extent – there’s plenty of laws in place to require Australian-hosted material to be taken down). The idea seems to be that parents have trouble installing PC-based filters (or at least installing them so their tech-savvy kids can’t get around them) – so ISPs should be forced to do that work for them.

But then that raises interesting issues of cost, doesn’t it? Let us see, what did DCITA itself conclude (note: big pdf) just a couple of years ago?

• Filtering technologies have not developed to the point where they can feasibly filter R-rated content hosted overseas that is not subject to a restricted access system.
• Complex analysis filtering technologies are not practical in a national proxy filtering system. However, due to developments in search algorithms and server power, Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or Internet Protocol (IP) addressed-based filtering does appear technically feasible at the ISP or server level.
• There are a number of practical difficulties in mandating URL/IP based filtering at the ISP level, including accuracy rates and, according to the Internet industry, impact on broadband. Ovum has estimated that URL/IP based filtering would involve implementation costs of approximately $45 million and ongoing costs of more than $33 million per annum. Such costs could significantly impact on the financial viability of smaller ISPs, in particular. Given the limited benefits of an ISP-level filtering system, the costs of a mandated requirement to filter do not appear justified.

So. Show me the report that says something has changed. Oh, no, that’s right, this is another one of those back of the envelope ‘it’s important and it’s an election year’ things. Sigh, grumble, grumble.

And it does seem like a lot of money in order to make it a bit harder for a few kids to access inappropriate material, and to save those kids’ parents the trouble of installing filters on their home computers. cost effective? methinks not. Oh, yes, right – that’s not the issue, it’s an election year.