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Oz net censorship apparatus to target BitTorrent

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The national web censorship apparatus being built by the Australian government will also include technology to restrict peer-to-peer traffic, according to the minister responsible for the plan.

Until today it had been thought that what opponents have called the "great Aussie firewall" - in a nod to Chinese internet censorship - would target only data transmitted over HTTP or HTTPS.

In response to suggestions by commenters on his blog that censoring web content would drive more peer-to-peer traffic, broadband minister Stephen Conroy wrote: "The Government understands that ISP-level filtering is not a 'silver bullet'. We have always viewed ISP-level filtering as one part of a broader government initiative for protecting our children online.

"Technology is improving all the time. Technology that filters peer-to-peer and BitTorrent traffic does exist and it is anticipated that the effectiveness of this will be tested in the live pilot trial."

Conroy didn't offer any further detail on how BitTorrent traffic will be "filtered" during the trials, which are set to run during the first half of 2009 with volunteer ISPs. They will filter websites against a blacklist for a minimum of six weeks.

In the UK ISPs use a blacklist of "child porn" websites maintained by the Internet Watch Foundation, an industry-backed group rather than government organisation. The recent climbdown over its censoring of a Scorpions album cover on Wikipedia demonstrated the pitfalls of even a self-regulatory approach. The Australian plan proposes much more government influence.

Prime minister Kevin Rudd's Australian Labor government has committed AUS$125.8m over four years to what it calls "cyber-safety measures". The great Aussie firewall is the centrepiece of the initiative, and has provoked strong opposition.

Hundreds of protestors gathered in major Australian cities last week, and some in the country's internet industry have derided the plans too. In November, Michael Malone, boss of ISP iiNet, told the Sydney Morning Herald: "They're not listening to the experts, they're not listening to the industry, they're not listening to consumers, so perhaps some hard numbers will actually help." He pledged to take part in the pilot to help demonstrate that the system would be ineffective.

Conroy's offhand announcement today that peer-to-peer traffic will be filtered is likely to add criticism of the Australian government from the filesharing community to that being voiced by free speech campaigners and the internet industry. ®

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