Gov't doesn't trust 'internet companies', says Conroy

During a press event at NBN HQ in Sydney, Conroy was asked whether the classification system for online content should be different from that for other mediums such as newspapers or television

The Federal Government doesn't trust large internet companies -- which he said were solely interested in profit -- to regulate their own sector, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said yesterday in response to questions about the Government's mandatory internet filter policy.

At a press event at the headquarters of the National Broadband Network headquarters in Sydney, Conroy was asked whether the classification system for online content should be different from that for other mediums such as newspapers or television.

"It's a communications system. It's not magic. I know there are people who like to give it magical properties, net utopians think that it should be completely unregulated," Conroy said. "This government and many other governments aruond the world don't accept that argument."

"We're not prepared to trust big internet companies whose sole basis of operation is profit motive, it's not a model that has ever worked long term on a range of issues ... take the privacy debate, where some companies say trust us. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to have worked out too well."

Conroy has been involved in several high-profile stoushes with internet companies in Australia. For example, earlier this year the Minister described Google's inadvertent collection of Wi-Fi payload data by its Street View cars as "possibly the largest privacy breach in history across Western democracies".

And in March 2009 Conroy attacked broadband provider iiNet's defence in its Federal Court case against the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft as something which "belongs in a Yes, Minister episode", spurring claims he had potentially prejudiced the case -- which iiNet eventually won.

Yesterday Conroy said of the filter that fundamentally the Government didn't believe that material which is refused classification under Australian law -- "that you can't see on TV, that you can't see in the newspaper, that you can't watch it at the movies" -- should available online, and that was the basis of the Government's filter policy.

The event yesterday was held to announce new rollout locations around Australia for the National Broadband Network. But Conroy has also scheduled another press event this morning at 10AM to "make an announcement" regarding the Government's Cyber-Safety policy -- which includes the filter policy.

The news comes as both the Opposition and the Greens have stepped up their attacks on the controversial filter policy, with the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety kicking off yesterday in Federal Parliament.

Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam said yesterday that new Prime Minister Julia Gillard should not have backed the filter policy publicly as she did this week without hearing the evidence from those presenting before the committee.

"The friendless net filter proposal is one policy that the ALP will probably regret taking into the 2010 election. There is still time to work with industry, online advocacy groups, child protection groups and other political parties to adopt a truly evidence based approach," he said.

And Liberal MP Alex Hawke described Labor's pursuit of the filter policy as "bloody minded".

The man to the left of Conroy in the video is NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley. Video taken by Jenna Pitcher.

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