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Cybersafety and the problems with internet filtering

The issue

The internet is a wonderful place for exploration and discovery, but just like in the real world, there are dark corners. Successive governments since the mid-1990s have leant towards internet filtering, a strongarm form of censorship, as the solution, yet filtering has been shown to vary in its effectiveness, blocking some sites with useful and legal information — for example relating to breast cancer — while not fully protecting children and others from illegal, objectionable or offensive material.

Our position

We believe there should be strong laws to punish wrongdoing, but we don’t think Big Brother censorship by the Government is a good way of preventing trouble. It isn’t effective and it has the potential to infringe civil liberty.

Instead, we think there should be an increased focus on education and community involvement. In 2010, the Australian Library and Information Association, Google, Inspire Foundation, Yahoo!, Internet Industry Association, Internet Society of Australia, System Administrators Guild of Australia and Australian Council of State School Organisations agreed that Australia needed to take effective action to ensure that internet users, and particularly children, have a safe experience online. We provide three core principles for effective action for a safer internet:

  • Education: Properly funding a national comprehensive cybersafety education program for children and parents on how to avoid inappropriate material and stay safe online. If any element of online safety is to be mandatory, it should be education.
  • Policing: Significantly increasing and funding the level of oversight by the government and federal police focused on the locations, such peer-to-peer, where child sexual abuse materials are disseminated.
  • Technical measures: If the government and the broader political system are determined to implement technical measures as part of online safety efforts, then we believe Australia can learn from the approaches adopted in peer countries, particularly in Europe. The strong consensus internationally is for ISPs, police and government to work together in partnership targeting a clearly defined and narrow band of child sexual abuse material.

Together, the organisations listed above lobbied against a 2008 proposal by the federal government of mandatory internet filtering by internet service providers and in November 2012 the government abandoned the idea.

What we are doing

Online copyright infringement

In July 2014, the Australian Government revived fears that internet service provider level filtering could be back on the table, with the release of an online copyright infringement discussion paper. The Australian Library and Information Association responded with a submission supporting the stance of the Australian Libraries Copyright Committee. The period of public consultation has now closed and we are awaiting further announcements from the Attorney General's Department.

eSmart libraries

There are 1,500 public libraries across Australia, almost all with internet access on public PCs. Every library will be participating in the eSmart Libraries initiative, run by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, with an $8 million investment from Telstra.

School libraries

There are libraries in most of the nation’s 9,000+ primary and secondary schools. School libraries are often also the ICT hubs, and library teams have both a teaching and a pastoral care responsibility. In 2013, we ran Project 13 in partnership with the state-based school library associations and Alannah and Madeline Foundation, highlighting the role of teacher-librarians in promoting cybersafety to children, teachers and parents.

How you can help

FAIR will keep on top of the progress of the online copyright infringement discussion paper and we'll let you know if action is needed. 

Share your story 

Do you want to tell us about your experiences in becoming cybersafe or why internet filtering is problematic?  Please drop us a line or post your story on our Facebook page.

Also if you have used one of our tools or suggestions, tell us the results of your actions. For example, if you have written a letter, made comment in the media, or received a response on a issue, please let us know and then we can keep the FAIR community informed via our newsletter.