September 15th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Horse flu: another quarantine scandal

COVER STORY: Howard and Rudd: the Xerox men

QUARANTINE: Taiwan farmers' lessons for Australia

WATER: Federal water plan could wipe 2.9 per cent off GDP

ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS: Sexual abuse of Aboriginal children: is Labor serious?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor's cumbersome IR policy

INTERNET FILTERING: Teenager bypasses 'useless' Govt porn filter

DIVORCE LAWS: Aussie dads still in dark about family law changes

OPINION: Abortion: an unanswered question

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Surprise appointment / A country looted by its corrupt leaders / An exercise in Islamic compassion / Now for the good news

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: WTO's Doha round staggers to a stalemate

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Australia's uranium sale to India

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Toxic childhood

BOOKS: SACRED CAUSES: The Clash of Religion and Politics, by Michael Burleigh


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Teenager bypasses 'useless' Govt porn filter

by Anh Nguyen

News Weekly, September 15, 2007
A Melbourne teenager recently managed to bypass the Federal Government's internet pornography filter, describing it as "completely useless".

Only a few weeks before, Prime Minister John Howard had promised to make the filter freely available to every Australian family.

But 16-year-old Melbourne student Tom Wood said he was able to completely circumvent the filter in half an hour.

"I downloaded it on Tuesday to see how good it was, because for $84 million I would have expected a pretty unbreakable filter," he said. "Tried a few things, it took about half an hour and [the filter] was completely useless."

Mr Wood described the situation as "extremely ridiculous". (ABC News, August 27, 2007).

The speed with which a young hacker has been able to bypass the filter has undermined the Howard Government's pre-election pledge to Australian families to protect their youngsters from exposure to inappropriate internet content.

On August 10, 2007 the federal Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Helen Coonan, announced the Government's NetAlert program.

At a cost of $189 million, NetAlert was designed to increase the resources of government agencies devoted to detecting and prosecuting inappropriate and illegal use of the internet.

The National Filter Scheme (NFS) - a component of the NetAlert programme - was to provide all Australian families with a free government-developed home PC-based filter, on which $84.8 million was to be spent.

However, Melbourne teen hacker Tom Wood has questioned the huge cost of the Government's proposed filter.

"I'm sure they did it with the right intentions; it's just that they've spent such a great amount of money on it when they could've probably done something as effective for a few million dollars," he said. "But $84 million is just outrageous, I think."

The Government has pledged a further $33.7 million to be spent on an awareness and education campaign, $22 million of which was allocated for media publicity and the rest for publicity in schools.

Another part of the Government's National Filter Scheme also includes the mandating of Internet service-providers (ISPs) to provide families with the option of using an ISP-level filter. However, the ISP filters will only be implemented following a joint government and industry feasibility study.

Victorian state president of the Australian Family Association, Angela Conway, recently said: "The Government must not continue dragging its feet, and the proposed trial of ISP filtering in Tasmania needs to be fast-tracked to obtain the data required to develop and deploy ISP filtering packages.

"If existing technology does not suit the purposes of Australians, then funding should be allocated to developing an adequate system."

The federal Labor Opposition is proposing that a copy of British Telecom's ISP-level "clean-feed" product be deployed in Australia.

It is unclear at the moment which system of ISP filtering will provide the most effective filtering. However, it is clear that without employing an ISP-level filter the Government cannot claim to be serious about protecting Australian families.

- Anh Nguyen

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