The Department of Internal Affairs is moving to reassure ISPs that it won't be requiring them to filter content.
The DIA confirms it is testing software from the UK that filters for child pornography, but spokesman Vince Cholewa says the department has to be involved from a legal standpoint and this is not the start of some kind of censorship drive.
The DIA is testing the software at the request of lobby group NetSafe, Cholewa says.
"We have to be involved because our inspectors have exemptions from laws regarding objectionable material, so while it would be illegal for someone else to gather this material to test the software, our inspectors are allowed to," he says.
Cholewa says the DIA's trial is a simple one. "We are trialling it by running two systems — one with the software and one without — to see what happens," he says. "It's not our intention to endorse any product but if it works we would support others seeking to offer it."
Cholewa says the software only monitors website activity and doesn't attempt to monitor other traffic, such as peer-to-peer traffic or IRC. "It probably wouldn't contribute an overwhelming amount to the issue of compliance because most of the traffic isn't over websites."
However, Cholewa says there is evidence to suggest some people become engaged in trafficking objectionable material after coming across it "by accident" on a website which leads to them seeking out hardcore material elsewhere.
"If we can head that off before it develops then that's a good thing."
InternetNZ says it too is taking part in the discussion over such filtering software at only the most basic level, according to executive director Keith Davidson.
"We've been asked by NetSafe whether such a system would work and we've said 'Well it depends', and that's about the extent of it at the moment," he says.
Davidson says the society members haven't been approached by the council about filtering software at this stage because there's very little to approach them about. "We certainly would consult with our members before going any further."
Computerworld understands a minor flamefest has broken out on the society's members-only mailing list over the issue.
Some ISPs already filter content aggressively for customers. Auckland-based Maxnet, for example, sells a filtering service to church groups, concerned parents and the business market. However, Cholewa says it's not for the government to tell ISPs they have to filter content.