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Within the last 24 hours the Australian Commonwealth Government announced that they would be spending AUS$189m (US$162m) on a range of packages and programs designed to protect Australian Internet users against all that the Internet has to offer, under the name Netalert.

With increasing increasing coverage by the Australian media, it is worthwhile to investigate what the features of the proposed scheme actually are, and whether they have any chances of working.

While the $189m is not being immediately assigned to the effort, and reflects a number of endeavours under the guise of protecting Australians against Internet nasties, there are some critical problems with the approach that the Government is taking.

Among the list of projects that have been earmarked for the money are:

  • Internet blocking software for Australian families
  • Resources for efforts to track and identify online predators on social networking sites and in chat rooms
  • Closing down terror sites
  • Reducing the variety of pornography viewable by Australian Internet users

During a streaming video presentation to the largest pentacostal evangelical church in Australia (Hillsong), an Assemblies of God megachurch, Prime Minister John Howard outlined several measures that would immediately appeal to the conservative (ultra-conservative?) audience. These included provision of Internet filters and efforts to block pornography at upstream providers by working with ISPs.

More than 700 other Christian assemblies were linked into the address, which meant that more than 100,000 were Australians watching the presentations. The leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, also joined in on providing a presentation to the assembled masses. This inclusion suggests that if the party in government changes at the next Federal election (later this year) then the Plan will stay in place (Labor have actually been ridiculed in the past for their ideas about what it means to protect Australian Internet users).

Probably the most effective way that the money is going to be spent will be to improve funding for various online investigative measures being carried out by The Australian Federal Police such as efforts to detect and investigate online predators. This may not be all that effective, though, with the AFP not being well-known for its ability to keep up with, adequately identify, and understand Internet based threats.

Despite the difficulty of correctly being able to identify online predators, something that the social networking companies and other interest groups are already struggling with (do you share a name or a birth date with a known predator? If you do, don't go online...), money will still be poured after it.

Several million dollars to knock the stupid predators offline might be considered a good investment by some.

One of the ironic measures being proposed is a bucket of money to establish a working group to find ways around the privacy laws and measures that are effectively protecting predators, presumably to make arrest and prosecution easier. If the laws and measures that protect predators are so effective, what is the $189m needed for, again? Why don't those measures work for those we are supposed to protect?

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