Censorship software is coming to the New Zealand internet - but unlike Australia, our site filtering programme is voluntary for internet service providers, and centres around software custom developed to exclusively target images of child sexual abuse.
Bloggers have been immediately dubious about the Department of Internal Affairs’ new filtering programme, officially announced today.
One, Thomas Beagle, who has led the online campaign questioning filtering, contacted NBR on Tuesday to raise the concern that the new, $150,000 filtering software bought then custom developed by the DIA.
Mr Beagle says the programme represents a breach of the that communications minister Steven Joyce's promise made in NBR on March 13, not to instigate any filtering programme - a reaction to the Australian government’s filtering trial under which not just nefarious sites but mainstream adult sites, gay sites, and even a dentist’s site were (often inadvertently) blocked.
The blogger also fears that once in place, any filtering software could be misused by future governments.
Keith Manch, Deputy Secretary at the DIA, points out there are a number of differences between here and Australia.
Chief among them, the NZ programme - which will start over the next couple of months - is voluntary. If an ISP doesn’t want to participate, for political reasons or because, say, it fears an impact on performance - it doesn’t have to. (For the record, Mr Manch says most ISPs are interested. No performance issues were reported during a two-year trial that included TelstraClear and Vodafone/ihug.)
In regards to mission creep, Mr Manch says the "White Box" filtering software, purchased from Swedish company Netclean, was specifically created to target sites with child sexual abuse images. The DIA further customised it in that direction.
Mr Manch also points out that there will be no facility to “back track”; that is, identify which PC user is trying to access the software’s list of 7000 or so banned sites. There will be no law enforcement; users will simply see an onscreen message telling them that the site they were trying to access is illegal. The DIA will purely record statistics of how many sites are blocked.
Extra money for enforcement
Bloggers have noted that the $150,000 for the software only accounts for part of the extra $611,000 extra allocated to the DIA for online enforcement in the budget.
Mr Manch says the balance of the money will be spent in areas where his agency is very proactive in law enforcement. At any one time, six or seven DIA staff are monitoring newsgroups and file sharing sites, or acting on tips from members of the public or overseas agencies to catch then prosecute those who access exploitive images.
“The filtering system is a response to community expectations that the government and ISPs should do more to provide a safe internet environment,” Keith Manch said. “It is not a silver bullet that will prevent everyone from accessing any sites that might contain images of child sexual abuse, but it is another important tool in the department’s operations to fight the sexual abuse of children.
“The distribution and viewing of images of this abuse – wrongly called child pornography – is trading in human misery. It is the result of real children being sexually abused and exploited in the worst possible way. Each time anyone anywhere in the world accesses one of those images, the child depicted is victimised again.”
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