In Conroy’s muddy waters you'll never know what’s being filtered

Critics of Conroy's Internet filtering say Australians will not be able to find out what the government censors online, and ask: who watches the watchmen?

An Australian law expert has warned that under the government’s proposed mandatory Internet content filtering scheme Australians will have no way of finding out what “illegal” content has been censored and blocked online, while Greens Senator Scott Ludlam voiced his concern over Conroy’s ambiguity regarding exactly what content will or won’t be blocked, and who will be able to opt-out of the filtering.

Conroy’s mandatory Internet filtering proposal caused a stir last week when it was revealed a member of his department had tried to censor severely critical comments made on the Whirlpool broadband forum by an Internode network engineer regarding the merits of ISP level filtering.

Graham Bassett is a barrister at Byron Bay Chambers and has taught Internet Law at Queensland University of Technology. Bassett told Computerworld that under current non-digital censorship laws a schedule of content that has been censored is made available to the public, however no such freedom of information will be available for public access to monitor what is censored and blocked under the government’s mandatory Internet filtering scheme.

Bassett pointed to a Freedom of Information application lodged by the Electronic Frontiers Association (EFA) in February 2000 to obtain information about Internet content that had been the subject of a complaint to the then Australian Broadcasting Authority (now ACMA) under Internet censorship laws that came into force on January 1, 2000.

EFA chair Dale Clapperton told Computerworld that the government refused to provide that information and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal accepted the government’s argument that making that information public would undermine its work with international law enforcement agencies.

Every organisation with an axe to grind and any kind of political clout will be lobbying the government to extend the blacklist to block access to whatever it is that pisses them off

EFA chair Dale Clapperton

“The government at some stage along the way actually amended the Freedom of Information Act to say that this type of information could not be FOI’d,” Clapperton said, warning that the ramifications of that ruling mean the list of Web sites put on Conroy’s proposed blacklist will not be accessible to the public.

“We’re not permitted to know what is on it - essentially we have to take their word for it. That was bad before when the blacklist was just being provided to manufacturers of filtering software, but now that the government is proposing to block access to everything on that blacklist by every Australian, it is unspeakably bad.”

Bassett confirmed that Australians will have no recourse to determine what has been blocked, once it is on the blacklist.

“If you have a situation where what is being banned is never made public, then how do we know that there hasn’t been an extension beyond material which infringes censorship publication, for example a political party or some people that might be defined as a terrorist organisation? The content becomes based upon whatever might be the whims of the people controlling those filters and the services that report to the filters,” he said.

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Andrew Hendry

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