August 16th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Solzhenitsyn, towering 20th-century prophet

EDITORIAL: Australia's faltering economy: a way out

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Does Peter Costello have what it takes?

BANKING: Bendigo Bank praised by Reserve Bank governor

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: Why the Doha trade round collapsed

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Plum postings for Australia's new aristocracy

RADICAL ENVIRONMENTALISM: Animal rights fanatics threatening our exports

INTERNET: ISP-level porn filtering moves a step closer

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Musical chairs

EDUCATION: An education system worth fighting for

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Opportunities for minor parties in WA election

UNITED KINGDOM: London transport bomb plot trial collapses

SPECIAL FEATURE: 1968 Prague Spring remembered

CINEMA: The Dark Knight - Heath Ledger's 'creepy and mesmerising' finale


BOOKS: THE GREAT ARAB CONQUESTS: How the spread of Islam changed the world we live in, by Hugh Kennedy

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ISP-level porn filtering moves a step closer

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, August 16, 2008
Several European nations have successfully introduced ISP-level internet-filtering, with content filter and internet blacklists, to deal with the problem of child pornography. Peter Westmore reports.

There have been dramatic improvements in the effectiveness and performance of internet-filtering at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level in Australia, according to a recent study by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The report, released last month, confirms the feasibility of ISP-level internet filtering.

The study was commissioned by Senator Helen Coonan, former Minister for Communications in the Howard Government, but conducted at arm's length by a company with lengthy experience in testing internet services, Enex TestLab, in a Telstra facility in Launceston, Tasmania.

The ACMA study, which is available from the ACMA web site, was designed to assess the current maturity of commercial filtering products that are suitable for deployment by internet service providers.
(See ACMA - Closed environment testing of ISP-level internet content filtering - a report.

Internet filters are designed to block illegal or inappropriate content. To perform properly, they should block close to 100 per cent of such material, while at the same time, not blocking other material. At the same time, the operation of the filter should not degrade the service significantly.

In the recent study, ACMA tested six filter products, based on a number of selection criteria which included that they were not managed by the vendor, and were either software-based systems or hardware-based filters.

The filter products were not named in the trial.

ACMA's study concluded that all six products were relatively successful in blocking inappropriate or illegal content, blocking more than 88 per cent of such sites. Three of the products blocked over 94 per cent of such sites.

At the same time, the number of web sites which were incorrectly blocked was 8 per cent or less for all six products.

Of these, four of the six blocked fewer than 3 per cent of acceptable sites.

A standard objection raised against ISP-level filtering is that it degrades network performance to an unacceptable degree, by slowing up access to the internet.

The study showed that the degree of degradation introduced by a filter connected to the test network and actively filtering was just 2 per cent for one product, in the range of 22 to 30 per cent for three products, and an unacceptable 75 per cent for two products.

ACMA concluded that the standard of ISP-level filtering has significantly advanced in recent years.

The current federal Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, said the government will soon conduct a trial blocking prohibited and "additional" material in a live pilot with ISPs using the filters.

"The next step is to test filter technologies in a real-world environment with a number of ISPs and internet-users," he said.

"Filtering specifically against a black-list of illegal content as well as the ability to filter additional material will be one part of the upcoming pilot trial. This will enable the implementation of ISP filtering in Australia to be undertaken in an informed and effective way."

The ACMA study found that, although the six products tested were able to prevent use of non-web protocols such as messaging and peer-to-peer transmissions, they were generally unable to filter them effectively. However, the study noted that filter vendors are currently working on this problem.

The report did not look at the economics of such filtering, although internet-filtering is common in the corporate world and in educational facilities such as schools. Nor did it look at the extent to which filters could be circumvented.

In the 2008 federal Budget, released in May, the Rudd Government indicated that it intended to push ahead with its promised internet content filtering scheme with a $125.8 million budget allocation, despite objections from some internet service providers, carriers and some privacy groups.

Fighting child pornography

Senator Conroy said ISP content filtering was part of a wider plan to fight child pornography, including $49 million to aid Australian Federal Police law enforcement.

"The Internet has exposed [children] to continually emerging and evolving dangers that did not previously exist," he said.

"While there may be technical and cost hurdles [for content-filtering], the message from other countries is that these can be overcome.

"Cyber-safety means helping parents and teachers as well as educating children to be good cyber-citizens."

Senator Conroy pointed out that several European nations have introduced ISP-level filtering, with content filters and internet blacklists, to deal with the problem of child pornography.

- Peter Westmore

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