Web filtering opponents boosted by Clinton

The Federal Government’s proposed internet filtering regime appears to be on a collision course with the US, judging by a speech given by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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“Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century,” Senator Clinton said.

While, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran were mentioned by Clinton, the talk was seen as being largely directed at China, especially following threats by US search engine Google to pull out of the country in relation to recent hacking concerns.

But taken literally, the speech, which said censorship should not be accepted, and governments shouldn’t prevent internet users from connecting to certain websites by means of filtering, puts the US in contrast to Australia.

The Federal Government has pledged to push ahead with its controversial internet service provider (ISP) level filtering programme, whereby ISPs are asked to block content that has been refused classification.

While the government says it is to prevent viewing of content such as child pornography and instructions in criminal activity, tests have proven innacurate, leading to questionable material being blocked.

Critics jumped on the speech as a sign the government is out of touch.

“China is not alone in censoring the internet – and that’s a club that Australia is unfortunately set to join if the Rudd Government get their way this year,”Electronic frontiers Australia’s Colin Jacobs told the ABC yesterday.

Experts have also claimed that the costly filtering scheme could slow bandwidth and may not even work properly, with technically more able people potentially being able to easily circumnaviagte the restritcions.

China rejects speech

China on Friday rejected criticism of its Internet censorship by Clinton, saying it harmed relations, as a row over Google’s threat to leave the Chinese market escalated.

Clinton had urged China on Thursday to conduct a thorough probe into cyberattacks on Google and other US companies, and lamented what she said was Beijing’s increasing efforts to control what its 384 million web users can see.

“We firmly oppose such words and deeds, which go against the facts and are harmful to China-US relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said, in China’s strongest comments since the Google dispute erupted last week.

“We urge the United States to respect facts and stop using the so-called Internet freedom issue to criticise China unreasonably,” he said in a statement posted on the ministry website.

In a major policy speech on Internet freedom in Washington, Clinton reiterated US support for “a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas”.

She called on China “to conduct a thorough investigation of the cyber intrusions” revealed by Google and for “its results to be transparent”.

The two sides have become locked in a spiralling dispute over Chinese web controls sparked by Internet giant Google’s announcement last week it would no longer obey China’s censorship rules and might pull out of the country.

Google said the decision was made after it suffered cyberattacks that the company believes originated in China and appeared aimed at cracking the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.