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Joining China and Iran, Australia to Filter Internet

Australia is forging ahead with plans to filter Internet content in a bid to stop its citizens accessing obscene and crime-linked Web sites.

Under the Chinese-style system, Internet service providers (ISPs) in the country would be legally obliged to filter out banned material.

The move would mean more than 1,300 sites that show child pornography, bestiality, sexual violence or give instructions about committing crime would be blocked. The government says such a system would help protect people, especially children, from harmful material found online.

At the moment officials can order people to take down material if it is hosted online in Australia, but cannot directly regulate content hosted abroad.

However critics say filtering would not prevent determined users from sharing illegal content and could also see over-enthusiastic officials carrying out unnecessary censorship. They also complain that it would slow down Internet speeds.

Outlining the plans, communication minister Stephen Conroy said an independent body would decide which sites should be blacklisted by being "refused classification" (RC) through a public complaint process.

"ISP filtering reduces the risk of Australians being inadvertently exposed to RC-rated material when they are online," he said. He added that a seven-month trial found blocking could be done with 100% accuracy with little impact on connection speeds.

ISPs would also be given grants to provide additional filters tackling, for example, X-rated content and gambling sites, but this would not be compulsory. Colin Jacobs, spokesman for online rights group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said of the plan: "Any motivated user will be able to get around it, it will be quite easy, so who is this being targeted at?"

The legislation will be introduced to parliament in August 2010 and will take a year to implement.

Communist China is known for its wide Internet censorship under a system of controls nicknamed the "Great Firewall of China".