At least one member of the federal government stands opposed to mandatory internet censorship, with Senator Kate Lundy pushing the Minister for an “opt-out” alternative from the online blacklist.

But Lundy says she has “a job cut out for me” lobbying colleagues before legislation is introduced to parliament next month. The former Labor front-bencher and passionate advocate for open IT has told Crikey she believes “the majority of caucus” wants a mandatory filter in place.

Lundy has used her blog to vent over her “discomfort” in Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s push for mandatory ISP-level blocking of websites refused classification, defying the government’s commitment to the filter by outlining a “preferred approach” including more effective parental education, internet skills development and voluntary filters at the desktop.

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Late last month Lundy wrote Conroy’s proposal left “little room to move”, but she suggested allowing ISPs to offer adult customers an “opt-out” from the filter. This week she has begun canvassing support for the option among Labor colleagues.

“My feeling is I’ve got a tough job ahead of me,” she says. Conroy has vowed to introduce legislation when parliament resumes on February 2.

Lundy acknowledges the flaws in her own plan: there will be a stigma attached to requesting access to an unfiltered internet, and she admits it may “lead to interest by the authorities, even though individuals may simply want to ensure they are not having legitimate content filtered”.

But for Lundy it’s the least-worst option. It “respects people can make an informed choice” while upholding a policy Labor took to the last election (she says she was against it then, too).

Lundy backs Conroy and the process he has gone through in testing filtering technology while boosting funding for cyber crime enforcement. She never believed a filter was feasible but she says the government’s testing has proven that false and she will support the final legislative outcome. But, as she has admitted on her blog, “many mechanisms used by criminal networks will not be stopped through a filtering mechanism”.

Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), a not-for-profit group leading the campaign against the filter, certainly agrees. Campaign manager Peter Black calls the opt-out compromise a “significant improvement”, but the group is dedicated to a public campaign rejecting any filter altogether.

EFA is investing all its funds in Black, a senior law lecturer specialising in new media at the Queensland University of Technology who will drive the campaign at least for the next three months. New branding and a website (“a hub of campaign activity for all the different individuals and organisations” against the filter) will launch soon to “shift the focus away from the ‘no clean feed’ slogan to a more positive message not only on the flaws in the proposed filter but also provides solutions to the Australian public”.

For Lundy, this is a hobbyhorse. She is a former shadow minister of information technology, a stalwart of Senate inquiries into the subject (she claims not to have missed one in 14 years) and has been a long-time advocate for harnessing IT since working as a communications officer in the union movement. The internet, she says, “really inspired me as a tool for empowerment”.

The ACT Senator says the public has not been properly educated on net safety and filtering technology since the Howard government first put forward censorship plans; the net filter has “never really been tested” as an issue in the community.

In her maiden speech to parliament in 1996, Lundy spoke of the “rewards that come from investing” in IT. She said: “The importance of public policy relating to the use and control of credible information sources and its increasingly complex delivery technologies cannot be underestimated if we are serious about equitable and affordable access.”

From outside, the Labor ministry she has spearheaded the government’s 2.0 online public participation initiative and led public forums on policy development. Last April, Lundy took on IT consultant and open source software advocate Pia Waugh as a full-time adviser on technology policy.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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