You might remember late last year Senator Conroy, Minister for Everything Cool and Funky (otherwise known as Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) coming out with a suggestion that Australian ISPs should start imposing ISP-level filtering of naughty-stuff. A few Australian internet-y types discussed this at the time, notably Pete Black at Freedom to Differ, and Dale Clapperton at Defending Scoundrels.

So it’s interesting that ACMA has released a new report, entitled Developments in Internet Filtering Technologies and Other Measures for Promoting Online Safety. And you have to love the conclusion from the Executive Summary:

‘…the report highlights that as users increasingly engage with interactive internet technologies, the online risks have shifted from content risks associated with the use of static content to include communications risks associated with interaction with other users…
…At this time, filtering technologies are regarded as suited to addressing particular static content risks.’

ACMA are of course careful to say that ‘clusters of measures can be more effective in minimising risks than single initiatives’ (translation:if we do lots of stuff, then maybe some of it will work). They also note that the UK ‘CleanFeed’ system, which blocks only 1,500 sites, can be deployed at an ISP level – although it addresses only a very specific (child pornography) issue.

Overall, you would have to say that the report (at least on a brief skim) is not exactly a resounding endorsement for filtering, beyond, perhaps, a blacklist of some very specific sites (and even there there is a lack of enthusiasm). Not exactly a slam dunk in terms of supporting the Minister’s earlier suggestions. As for whether ISP-level filtering is going to ‘save the children’… well:

‘The risks to Australian youth are primarily the risks that are associated with Web 2.0 services – potential contact by sexual predators, cyber-bullying by peers and misuse of personal information. … education is the most effective method of addressing risks associated with illegal contact online.’

Also notable while thinking about this story – and perhaps the ACMA report – is an article picked up by Bruce Schneier today. The article is entitled ‘Online “predators” and their victims: Myths, realities, and implications for prevention and treatment‘, published in American Psychologist. Vol 63(2), Feb-Mar 2008, pp. 111-128. From the abstract:

The publicity about online “predators” who prey on naive children using trickery and violence is largely inaccurate. Internet sex crimes involving adults and juveniles more often fit a model of statutory rape–adult offenders who meet, develop relationships with, and openly seduce underage teenagers–than a model of forcible sexual assault or pedophilic child molesting. This is a serious problem, but one that requires approaches different from those in current prevention messages emphasizing parental control and the dangers of divulging personal information. Developmentally appropriate prevention strategies that target youths directly and acknowledge normal adolescent interests in romance and sex are needed.