Optus flags participation in Net filtering trial

Australia’s second largest ISP will take part in the federal government’s controversial Internet filtering trial

Australia’s second largest internet service provider, Optus, will belatedly take part in the federal government’s controversial internet filtering trial.

The announcement follows the March withdrawal of Australia’s third largest ISP, iiNet, from the trial. At the time iiNet’s managing director, Michael Malone, described the Internet filter as a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Optus had previously flagged its interest in taking part in the trial, as long as customers were included on a voluntary basis. Optus representatives were not available for comment at press time.

Australia’s largest ISP, Telstra BigPond, has also refused to take part in the trial. Despite this refusal, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy said in a statement that the government is working with Telstra on the technical testing of ISP filtering technologies.

“These tests do not involve actual customers, and therefore are not being conducted as part of the pilot; however, it is hoped that the results will feed into the government’s policy considerations,” said minister Stephen Conroy in a statement.

Optus joins the fourth largest ISP, Primus, as well as six other ISPs, including Webshield, Highway 1 and Nelson Bay Online.

According to the minister, Optus will, for the purposes of the trial, filter the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) blacklist of prohibited and potentially prohibited sites. The sites, which fall under material that would potentially be refused classification, include those with content such as child porn, bestiality and the incitement to commit an act of terrorism.

The Internet filtering trial has been mired in controversy, with the ACMA blacklist being leaked to Internet Web site Wikileaks. The blacklist included 2300 sites with many legitimate URLs and Web sites blocked. At the time, minister Stephen Conroy issued a statement condemning the leak, saying that the list was misleading because the real blacklist contained far fewer URLs.

Significantly, today’s announcement also said that the government is considering optional ISP filtering products for families that wish to have such a service.

The minister also announced the publication of ACMA’s second report on international developments in Internet filtering technologies. The ACMA report found that ISP-level filtering plays an important role in preventing inadvertent access to child porn.

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