Filter foes face a rough ride

Yesterday I interviewed Peter Black, the Queensland University of Technology law lecturer who was recently appointed to manage Electronic Frontiers Australia’s anti-internet-filtering campaign. He’s under no illusions he has taken on a tough challenge.

“There’s no doubt it’ll be quite hard to get the government to change their mind. There’s been a lot invested by Senator Conroy and the Rudd Government in this policy.”

He says the filter opponents have a range of options. His ideal would be to get rid of the filter entirely, either by convincing the Government to drop it or by getting enough opposition from the Greens and Liberal parties to ensure the legislation won’t pass the Senate. Until after the next election, perhaps.

The emerging middle option is to implement some sort of filter but to make it voluntary. You certainly could read Labor’s pre-election policy document as saying the filter should be something ISPs could offer customers, not force on them.

But there’s voluntary and there’s voluntary. It could be a voluntary opt-in filter, which people have to ask for. Or it could be a sort-of-voluntary opt-out filter, which is applied by default unless the customer asks not to have it.

Of course, there are problems with an opt-out filter, particularly with the constant insinuations from Senator Conroy and the Australian Christian Lobby that anyone who opposes the filter is a fan of child pornography.

As Labor Senator Kate Lundy put it on Crikey, people may be concerned that opting out of the filter could “lead to interest by the authorities, even though individuals may simply want to ensure they are not having legitimate content filtered”.

Nonetheless, Lundy now says she prefers an opt-out filter. Over the past few weeks she has shifted from warily supporting the filter to being uncomfortable with it to lobbying within the Government against it. She now says an opt-out filter “respects people can make an informed choice” while fulfilling Labor’s election commitments (to the Christian lobby).

One still has to wonder how many people would be willing to email their ISP asking, ‘Can has kiddie pr0n pls, kthxbai!’

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