Child Wise CEO calls for government re-think on ISP filtering

McMenamin stresses filtering should only apply to child porn and child abuse related Web sites.

Child Wise CEO Bernadette McMenamin has clarified her position on the Federal government's plan to implement mandatory Internet filtering at the ISP level, stating that all she wants blocked are child pornography Web sites, and nothing else.

McMenamin told Computerworld she had received many passionate emails in response to an article she wrote for The Australian, calling for filters to battle child porn.

"Some are sensible but others are very condescending, lecturing me about the limits of filtering. Others are completely rude and disrespectful calling me an idiot, imbecile and stupid," she said.

McMenamin said she was shocked at the fear, outrage and rudeness some had shown in response to her article.

"However, when I explained my position the sensible ones have usually settled down and almost agreed with me, stating that they would agree voluntarily to block child porn, which is what I am trying to do."

McMenamin said she categorically disagrees with any type of filtering that does not involve child porn or child abuse related sites.

"I do not support filtering pornography in general or other contentious sites. Only child pornography, as I don't believe filtering should be used to censor," she said.

The plans to introduce ISP level filtering to protect Australian children by the Minister for Broadband, Senator Stephen Conroy, and Family First Senator Steve Fielding, have resulted in mass outpourings of protest, such as the NetAlarmed web site, for its vague definitions of what should be filtered.

McMenamin does not want to be lumped in the same boat as Conroy and Fielding, and believes their agenda of protecting Australian children online has been confused with her goal of removing child pornography from the Internet.

"This is where people are confusing issues on the subject of ISP filtering as opposed to keeping children safe online. ISP filtering is about removing/blocking child porn...No one should have access to this, it simply shouldn't be there."

"I think the Federal government must refine their position and focus only on child pornography because I think they are confusing the issue at the moment by being silent around what exactly they are going to be filtering, and this is creating fear and exaggeration," she said.

Despite Federal government studies that have shown ISP filtering to be far from faultless, McMenamin points to systems in the UK, Denmark and Sweden that, although not perfect, have been proven to block child porn sites without blocking legitimate sites.

"Having said that I think technology should be able to perfect this and work to improve any system. If everyone agrees that child porn is an abhorrent industry then lets work together to remove it. If ISP blocking doesn't work then it doesn't work but we should at least trial it. That's all I'm asking."

Blocking these sites won't stop the problem, but it will help decrease demand.

"Clearly ISP filtering is only one small strategy dealing with a huge complex problem. We are working with communities, with children who have been trafficked into prostitution, with governments, with tourism industries etc. Hopefully we can work effectively with the ISP industry, but ISP filtering is only one strategy," she said.

And while McMenamin agrees that the cost of the ISP level filtering should not be passed onto the consumer, she believes it is a small price to pay to help combat abuse of children online.

"It's just like every tax payer pays for child protection, schools and every other childrens service whether they have kids or not. It's social responsibility."

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Andrew Hendry

Computerworld

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