Plans by the Australian Government to introduce a mandatory ISP-level internet filter have suffered another blow with the release of the interim report of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety.
After reviewing arguments from both proponents of the cyber-safety measure and those opposed, the Committee declined to make any recommendations or endorse the policy in a chapter dedicated to discussion of the proposal.
The Federal Government introduced the proposal in 2007 as part of its Cyber-Safety agenda. But now the Government's Cyber-Safety Committee has questioned whether it would be any more effective than industry-led initiatives.
“There is no evidence of reluctance by ISPs to take down Refused Classification material, and it is not clear that legislation would be any more effective than a voluntary arrangement,” the Committee report said.
The report quoted Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) deputy secretary Abul Rizvi commending a voluntary framework as more efficient concerning enforcement of cyber-safety initiatives:
“The real question that I think confronts us is whether a legislative framework would be any faster than a voluntary framework. We have found no evidence that the relevant websites, these large multinational websites, are reluctant to take this sort of material down. Their user policies are actually very broad in terms of the kinds of materials they can take down compared to, for example, what is covered in the Broadcasting Services Act. They cover a much wider range of material that they describe as inappropriate than is described in legislation. So the breadth of the policies is broader, and we have not seen any evidence of a reluctance on their part to take it down. The key is how you work through a large multinational organisation to move quickly, and it is not clear that legislation would make them move any more quickly than a voluntary arrangement.”
The Committee was impressed with ACMA surveys that revealed that between 40 and 50 percent of parents use filtering devices at home - filters which already restrict access to more material than Refused Classification content.
Moreover, the Committee’s commissioned survey probed views of younger people and received a mixed response.
Survey participants were asked what they believed could be done to make the internet safer.
“Though young people appear to welcome localised internet filters installed on personal computers, they are less receptive of an ISP-level filter,” the report said.
Strong endorsement for privacy reform
Privacy advocates, on the other hand, will hail the report as advancing their cause.
Of the 32 recommendations the Committee made, no fewer than nine comprise recommendations to tighten privacy laws or oversight of these laws by the Privacy Commissioner.
The report recommended thatt:
- The Australian Government consider dropping the small business exemptions of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) to ensure that small businesses which hold substantial quantities of personal information, or which transfer personal information offshore, are subject to the requirements of that Act.
- The Australian Privacy Commissioner undertake a review of those categories of small business with significant personal data holdings, and make recommendations to Government about expanding the categories of small business operators prescribed in regulations as subject to the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)
- The Office of the Privacy Commissioner examine the issue of consent in the online context and develop guidelines on the appropriate use of privacy consent forms for online services and the Australian Government seek their adoption by industry.
- The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) provide that all Australian organisations which transfer personal information overseas, including small businesses, ensure that the information will be protected in a manner at least equivalent to the protections provided under Australia's privacy framework.
- The Office of Privacy Commissioner, in consultation with web browser developers, Internet service providers and the advertising industry, and in accordance with proposed amendments to the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), develop and impose a code which includes a 'Do Not Track' model following consultation with stakeholders.