Groups oppose Aussie plan to filter internet

An Australian government plan to filter the internet drew criticism from privacy advocates who said it represented the start of state censorship, an AFP report said.

The AFP report said Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, a member of the Labor team which ousted conservative prime minister John Howard in a November election, wants filters in place to shield children from online porn and violence.

Under the plan, internet service providers would provide feeds filtered free of pornography and other inappropriate material to houses and schools, the report said.

Conroy has rejected criticism that the move will debase the freedom of the world wide web and represents a step towards the kind of internet censorship in place in China where sites are regularly blocked and cyberdissidents arrested, the AFP report added.

'If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor government is going to disagree,' he was quoted as saying.

But chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation Roger Clarke said the plan would not only be ineffective but could have substantial side-effects, the report said.

Clarke said it was the role of parents and guardians, not the government, to protect children from inappropriate material.

The AFP report also quoted Peter Coroneos, spokesman for the Internet Industry Association, as saying that providers were already providing free filters and the industry was unsure whether the plan would work.

Conroy said internet users would be able to access uncensored material by opting out of the service and that the government would work with industry to ensure the filters did not slow down the service, the report further said.