No Great Firewall seen for New Zealand

No plan to follow Australia into compulsory filtering of internet connections by ISPs

The New Zealand government has no current plan to follow Australia into compulsory filtering of internet connections by ISPs, says ICT minister David Cunliffe.

New Zealand’s response to undesirable online material emphasises education, says Cunliffe, referring to NetSafe’s educational programme aimed at parents and children.

“The ISP Code of Practice is also preventative and the DIA's enforcement powers are a strong deterrent,” he says.

There is currently no legislative authority in the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act for website filtering, Cunliffe notes.

The Australian proposal, first mooted by the Howard government, has attracted criticism. The extent of the planned filtering is still unclear. Australian civil liberties campaigners have called it the Great Firewall of Australia, in allusion to China's strict state online censorship.

The present Australian government has decided to continue the plan to test filters with a view to require all ISPs to implement filtering in due course. The current phase involves laboratory tests, with live trials to follow soon. This is despite doubts in the internet-using community of the filters' effectiveness and their impact on the performance of internet connections.

Moreover, it was recently made clear, to the surprise of many users, that that there will be no provision for users to opt-out of the less restrictive level of filtering, aimed at preventing access to sites containing illegal material.

A further level, blocking legal pornography and other unspecified legal but offensive material, is aimed at Australian households where there are children. Adult users will apparently be able to opt out of that level of filtering.

In New Zealand a trial web filtering programme is being conducted by the DIA in association with a number of ISPs, who have volunteered. The trial currently blocks access to about 7,000 websites that are known to deal exclusively with child sexual abuse imagery, Cunliffe says.

“The programme intends to contribute to the safety of the public’s online experience by preventing inadvertent access to this type of objectionable material. It also intends to contribute to international efforts against the production of and trade in child sexual abuse imagery," he says.

“There are no plans for the programme to be expanded to other types of illegal material.”

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