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Aussie net filtering goes into reverse

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Red faces all round in the New South Wales Education Department, as news surfaced last week that a filter supposed to block porn was actually letting it through, and blocking perfectly good educational material instead.

This unfortunate state of affairs came to light when a female school student from Greenfell, NSW, went looking for information on the "swallow" – the avian variety – and the malfunctioning filter blocked access to a documentary on swallowing toothpaste whilst allowing her to view a male site talking about "inappropriate material".

Her father, George Cochrane, duly described himself as scandalised, before adding: "The system isn't actually protecting anybody, especially isolated kids."

This appears not to have been a one-off, as reports later trickled in of other educational sites being blocked, as well as web pages for the local member of parliament and NSW Education Minister Verity Firth’s own site.

Perhaps this is not quite such an oversight, as the only content currently to be found on that site is a picture of the blonde Ministress, suspiciously captioned: "Coming soon".

The education department were keen to play down the seriousness of this incident, with a spokesman confirming that the site had been blocked, and admitting that some questionable websites escaped the filter. However, he was adamant that response to concerns was swift and blocks were updated daily. He added: "On rare occasions inappropriate websites are not captured."

Acting Opposition education spokesman Andrew Stoner was less forgiving. He said: "Nathan Rees and Education Minister Verity Firth are quick to claim credit for the good news, so they should accept responsibility for this debacle and fix it as soon as possible."

Regular readers will be aware of the intense interest of the Australian government in creating an internet filter that will apply to all content on all PCs in the country. Had opponents of this measure understood that one side-product of filtering was the delivery of porn on demand in response to innocent searches, it is possible that opposition might have been slightly less fierce. ®

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