The voluntary blocking of online child abuse material being implemented by ISPs Telstra and Optus is not attempting to address hardened offenders but instead looking to limit the availability of material to “curious individuals”, according to the Internet Industry Association (IIA).
IIA chief executive, Peter Coroneos, told Computerworld Australia the move to block child pornography sites, based on a blocklist compiled by Interpol, is more about aligning Australia with European countries including Denmark, France, Sweden and Norway, and taking the first step toward reducing the availability of such content online.
“A large part of the thinking is that if we can work with the ISPs to limit the availability of this material on the public internet, which is about as much as we can do it at the moment,” Coroneos said. “It’s a step in the direction of diminishing the exposure of perhaps curious individuals that may not yet be paedophiles that don’t have the resources that hardened offenders do.”
“If you’re part of a hardened paedophile network you’re probably not going to be using the open internet to access content. You’re going to be using much more difficult-to-track means, so we’re not really attempting at this stage to address that.”
He stresses the project is not censorship or filtering, but rather the blocking of illegal images as notified by Interpol.
“We’re not talking about all forms of offensive content on the net which can vary according to culture and values — we’re talking about a very specific subset of content that again most countries in the world have already passed laws to criminalise.”
A Telstra spokesperson told Computerworld Australia the blocking would occur across its entire network and is implemented by programming the telco’s domain name servers to redirect internet users to a ‘stop page’ should they request a restricted site.
“Other than blocking access to these specific sites, the technology does not inspect data traffic or filter the content of browsers sessions in any way,” the spokesperson said.
“We believe the telecommunications industry has a responsibility to limit the distribution of content containing child sexual abuse material.”
With Optus and Telstra committed to the initiative, and the latter implementing the Interpol list from 30 June, Coroneos is optimistic that once the code of conduct is released, smaller ISPs will join the fold.
“I can’t think of why not if it’s not an expensive exercise for the ISPs — if it’s clear that it’s just child pornography and something that the user base will support. I can’t imagine that ISPs could really mount much of a credible argument as to why they shouldn’t do it.”
According to Coroneos, traditional concerns for smaller ISPs, including who makes the determination around the blocked content and the cost, should not apply as it can be done with existing infrastructure and it is clear that Interpol is supplying the list, which encompasses a narrow range of serious content.
“It’s been constructed in such a way that we are not dictating the form in which the technical blocking occurs and in most cases we believe it can be done using existing equipment,” he said.
“It’s more a question of Interpol providing them with the relevant list of sites to be blocked and then they would implement that as part of their normal routing.”
Exetel chief executive, John Linton, said the ISP would have no reason not to participate in the scheme and would do so if requested but does not have the means to do so alone.
“We don’t have the resources to determine what sites should be banned so we would do nothing via our own initiative,” he said. “Like any right thinking people we abhor the whole concept of child abuse.”
Commenting on the initiative, Internode managing director, Simon Hackett, said the ISP would not be participating in the program but would be watching the outcome “with interest”.
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