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Australia halts web filter plan ahead of polls

Australia put its disputed Internet filter plan on hold for up to a year on Friday to allow for an independent review of what content would be banned, neutralising controversy ahead of elections.

world Updated: Jul 10, 2010 07:58 IST

Australia put its disputed Internet filter plan on hold for up to a year on Friday to allow for an independent review of what content would be banned, neutralising controversy ahead of elections.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said that introduction of the "Clean Feed" filter would be delayed for consultations over what material should come under the initiative, which is to be administered by service providers.

"Some sections of the community have expressed concern about whether the range of material included in the Refused Classification category, under the National Classification Scheme, correctly reflects current community standards," Conroy said in a statement.

"In order to address these concerns, the government will recommend a review... be conducted at the earliest opportunity. The review would examine the current scope of the existing RC classification, and whether it adequately reflects community standards." Conroy said the mandatory filter would not be imposed until completion of the review, which could take up to a year, buying the government a reprieve in protests as it prepares to call an election in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, he said Australia's three largest internet service providers had agreed to voluntarily block a government-compiled list of child abuse webpages, which he described as featuring "abhorrent" content.

"I welcome the socially responsible approach taken by some of Australia's largest ISPs," he said, adding that they jointly account for around 70 per cent of Internet users in Australia.

Canberra's ambitious plan to block access to sites featuring material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse has drawn criticism from global giants including Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Angry user groups launched an online campaign accusing the government of censorship, while cyber-activists succeeded in jamming key government websites in a concerted campaign of protest hacking.

User advocates, the pornography industry and others have likened Australia's proposed system to official firewalls operating in repressive regimes such as China and Iran.