EFA has put together a submission to the DBCDE accountability and transparency review on what measures would be required to make mandatory ISP filtering legitimate. Many thanks for Irene Graham and Kylie Pappalardo for their tremendous help in putting this together.

If you want to put in a submission, the deadline is today. You can see our submission for some suggestions.

The point we're making is that filtering is a terrible idea, but if it absolutely must be introduced, it must be legitimately administered. The only justification for secret censorship that are compatible with liberal democratic values is where the material is illegal to possess and publishing identifying information on censored material would cause direct harm - as may be the case with publishing the URLs or other identifying information of child sexual abuse material. Even in these circumstances, there are stringent requirements for notification, rights of appeal, and regular rigorous oversight of the secret list. In all other circumstances, classification, in order to be compatible with the ideals of liberal democracy, must be carried out in an open and accountable manner.

Our full submission is available here (PDF).

The specific recommendations we are making are over the fold.

  1. If mandatory ISP filtering is introduced, only the portion of the list of banned URLs that relate to illegal child sexual abuse material should be secretly maintained; the broader category of material that is Refused Classification but not illegal to access or possess should be treated in an identical way to offline classification of publications, films, and computer games;
  2. The Classification Board is the appropriate body to oversee the classification of all material in Australia (EFA strongly supports 'Option One' in part);
  3. All decisions by the Classification Board should be reviewable by the Classification Review Board on the application of any interested person;
  4. The ACMA should be obliged to notify Australian and international operators of websites when a URL they are responsible for is added to the list of banned sites (EFA strongly supports 'Option Two');
  5. Any reviews of decisions to the Classification Board and the Classificaiton Review Board should be taxpayer funded, but the cost structure of the Classification Board should be reviewed;
  6. Any filter should display a page that informs users attempting to access blocked URLs that the page has been blocked, why the page has been blocked, links the user to an online copy of the Classification Board's decision summary, and provides means for the user to apply for review of the Classification Board's decision (EFA strongly supports 'Option Three');
  7. In the interests of legitimacy, transparency and consistency with the NCS, the filter should provide a warning page only, rather than completely block, the portion of RC URLs that
    are not child sexual abuse material (i.e. are not illegal to access);
  8. URLs provided by highly reputable overseas agencies may be added to a mandatory filter where (a) the material is clearly child sexual abuse material; expedited review by the Classification Board is readily available; and ongoing sampling of the integrity and quality of overseas lists with regards to the Australian classification guidelines is undertaken (EFA tentatively supports 'Option Four');
  9. Annual review of the list of blocked URLs and the processes used to generate the list should be conducted by an independent expert and tabled in Parliament (EFA strongly supports
    'Option Five');
  10. Annual review should pay particular attention to and report on URLs added to the list that fall within a 'grey area' that are not clearly and incontestably illegal child sexual
    abuse material;
  11. The Government should investigate the creation of an industry group to consider the administrative arrangements of the bodies responsible for any mandatory
    filtering scheme (EFA tentatively supports 'Option Six').

10 comments

  1. In my opinion, this is harmful to the protest against the cleanfeed system. By creating this list and this submission you provide wiggle room. There shouldn't be any wiggle room. A blacklist should never have material on it that isn't illegal and as such there should never be a reason to notify the public about the existence of websites on the blacklist.
    The main reason most people are against this blacklist is because of a) the principle and b) it can possibly be abused later on down the line. By suggesting that they should notify the public about websites on the blacklist that do not host illegal content, you're suggesting it's alright for them to put those websites on a blacklist in the first place.
    I don't see how making a blacklist of not illegal, but simply refused classification, content available to the public will make this situation any better. The content will still be censored, we will still be in the dark, and the politicians of Australia will still have made a decision on what we can and can not view in the last place where relative freedom is available.

    If those responsible, for the most disgusting proposition within Australian politics, actually read this list, they'll never agree to #7. Why set up a blacklist - internet censorship - that you could simply decide to not honour. This is not an opt-in system and as such they'll laugh at the idea of users simply being given a WARNING about the content they are trying to access being on a blacklist.

    I see this as a backward step, a backward step that we the people should not take.

    Comment by Steven on 13 February 2010 at 02:16
  2. Steven, yours is a valid opinion; however, I can't rightfully knock the extraordinary lengths the Electronic Frontiers group have gone to in defending Australian's civil liberties. The truth of the matter, in spite of the efforts of this group and some others have gone to, we are still fighting a losing battle. I am not being defeatest. I am dismayed, however, at the number of my educated and 'well informed' friends and colleagues who are oblivious to filtering's existence.

    I would point you to an essay that I penned regarding the highly organised, massively funded Australian Christian Lobby and the influence that they have in Parliment - http://internet-censorship-australia.blogspot.com... - an exerpt:

    In November '09, Stephen Conroy was questioned by Senator Scott Ludlam about his one-to-one closed door meetings with the Australian Christian Lobby regarding Internet censorship: "Is the minister only backgrounding supportive stakeholders, or will he also be providing a briefing to some of the many online advocacy and other groups who have been highly sceptical of this proposal? ... There are a great many stakeholders in this net filtering debate, and they have a right to be demand why one group alone has been briefed by the minister."

    What other groups are granted a private audience and have the ear of the Minsister? The last time Labour and Liberal had a get together with the Australian Christian Lobby, Mr Howard and Mr Rudd committed 189,000,000 tax dollars to an anti-pornography scheme - of which filtering represents an enormous part.

    Like it or not, the ACL have a huge amount of clout on both sides of the divide. Therefore, in the 'not unlikely' event that the censorship scheme is going to be approved, then the DBCDE submission by Electronic Frontiers may represent one of the few sane voices that may be heard. Far from ideal, I agree, though I would far prefer to accept many of those 11 points than be stuck with total darkness.

    Please keep up the great work EFA!

    Comment by Richard Henderson on 13 February 2010 at 03:50
  3. I think that it's important to maintain our opposition to mandatory ISP filtering. I also think, however, as Richard says, that it's important to be involved in the discussion and debate and put forward our views on how this terrible policy can be implemented in a way that has the least impact on the democratic rights of Australians. I think taking an approach that refuses to engage means that we risk being left behind and ignored if we lose this fight, and I think that puts us all in a much worse position. I don't think that this submission in any way strengthens the argument for mandatory filtering, but it does engage in an attempt to make any implementation less offensive to liberal democratic ideals.

    Comment by Nic on 13 February 2010 at 03:55
  4. I am not sure how to proceed personally, but the EFA seem to be taking all logical steps. However I would have further argued, had I had time to put together a submission (unfortunately the issue was only put on my radar with the last month as that is when I moved here) about the technical implications of such a system, in particular the lack of viable IPv6 compatible for DPI and hybrid type filtering.

    Why is this important? First off, the only ISP in the country (Internode) running an IPv6 trail would be doing so illegally as the content on their IPv6 stack cannot be filtered, as such the trail would be need to be stopped. This means that no ISP in Australia will be able to upgrade their upstream to IPv6. The ramifications of further delays in deploying dual-stack networks in Australia will result in billions of dollars which either taxpayers, or broadband users, will need to pay for, further pushing up the price of broadband, which is already some of the most expensive in the developed world.

    And since we're on finical costs, if the DBCDE feels that Australia is lagging behind in broadband, and that users are paying to much for it, and are thus spending hundreds of millions of dollars introducing fiber to the home and VDSL options to consumers in order to increase the availability of high-speed broadband in Australia, why are they also advocating a system that will ultimately increase the price of broadband, thus pushing broadband out of reach of even more consumers?

    *sigh* I wish I had more time to put forth a submission. I have done a lot of research in the area. I am considering sending a report with these points directly to Minister Conroy, however I am sure how effective such an action would be.

    Comment by NightKhaos on 13 February 2010 at 06:06
  5. NightKhaos - truly above my head; however, I have been watching Senator Scott Ludlam with some interest and he seems to know what he's talking about vis a vis the Internet filtering, and giving Mr Conroy a massively hard time.

    E: [email protected] Tel: 08 9225 5799 - and he also has a Face Book page where you can post your findings. Frankly, the last person on Earth I would send it to is Mr Conroy, unless you want it buried, never to be heard of again.

    Comment by Richard Henderson on 13 February 2010 at 06:59
  6. Richard, Thanks for your advice. It will be quite helpful, as I am unsure how to proceed. Basically the core of my argument against filtering is as follows:

    I feel that from a the evidence I have been presented, the filter is just not feasible from a technical perspective, and I am not just referring to the ease circumvention that the DBCDE always mentions as a trump card whenever someone points out a technical flaw, I am talking about implementing a system, any system, will cost millions of dollars and will either become obsolete with the new technologies, such as the mentioned IPv6, or stunt growth in the Industry.

    The stunt one is very important, the filter mandate, depending on the method the ISPs chose to implement, can do one of three things:

    1) It can outright prevent deployment of a new technology (the new technology can never comply to the mandate).
    2) It can delay the deployment of a new technology (the new technology needs further investment before it will be able to adhere to the mandate).
    3) It can prevent the use of a well used technology that does not or cannot adhere to the mandate, and causes the a lesser used technology to be adopted, with little support, and greater risk to the industry (the mandate interferes with technological development)

    Option 1 is fortunately a rare occurrence, most technologies, if stunted at all, will fall under Option 2 or 3. In fact, most technologies will likely be affected by Options 2 and 3 will occur at the same time. Take IPv6, the primary and post popular method censorship is DPI or Hybrid-DPI, a method that looks at all traffic and rejects any traffic that is directed towards a banned website. Until DPI is redeveloped for IPv6, IPv6 cannot be deployed (Option 2), or the ISP will have to go for the less popular option of a Transparent Proxy (Option 3) which is less common, therefore there is less support for it.

    Please note when I say support I mean support in terms of industry experts who are willing and able (i.e they do not have a COI and/or they are unemployed and looking for work) to provide expertise in the field.

    There are other sub arguments from a technical perspective, such that the list will at some point be leaked, and that by banning something you instantly draw more attention to it. This is particularly relevant for RC material. Finally there other social implication is the impression that the government manages to censor all objectionable content, which is in fact impossible given that the amount of information posted to the internet on a daily basis, and that is only if we consider the WWW, not even fluid content like internet chatrooms, etc, which will give the impression to parents that their children are save online, when in fact they could be exposed to the very things that the filter intends to protect them from.

    I know these points have probably be raised in detail by various other advocates against the filtering, etc, but I am trying to put forward my own case, and like I said, I am unsure as to how to proceed.

    Comment by NightKhaos on 13 February 2010 at 07:39
  7. "The point we’re making is that filtering is a terrible idea, but if it absolutely must be introduced, it must be legitimately administered."

    Incredible. Calling yourself Electronic Frontiers is a joke - you're bowing down to the will of the government and letting them get a foot in the door. You should be _utterly_ opposed to this. It is the only way to stop the plan from going ahead.

    You can forget about receiving the further support of our group - our donations will now go to group who are actually willing to stand up for a belief in freedom of information

    Comment by ash on 15 February 2010 at 00:52
  8. The fact is ash, I'm not _ideologically_ opposed to filtering. We oppose filtering because it's an infringement on the freedom of speech, because it's unworkable, because it's a waste of money, and because it's not - in its current form - legitimate and compatible with liberal democratic ideals. This submission changes none of that, but refusing to participate means only that we are more likely to be ignored.

    EFA has worked hard to provide reasoned input on policy that puts the best possible case forward against filtering. Throwing a tantrum and refusing to work with Government when they ask, in good faith, what we think about transparency, really helps no-one.

    I suggest you read the submission. It's well put together and is a strong argument against the current half-articulated proposal. I make absolutely no apologies for this piece.

    Comment by Nic on 15 February 2010 at 00:58
  9. And nor should you Nic, if I understand your career choice correctly, this is precisely the kind of argument which you are capable of understanding and putting together, just like I more capable of understanding and putting together the argument coming from a technical perspective. And that is precisely what I am doing.

    I have started a draft for the report I am writing and you are welcome to read it on Google Docs. http://bit.ly/cLDWuy

    I will attempt to update it frequently as I develop it.

    Comment by NightKhaos on 15 February 2010 at 03:25
  10. Updated link: http://bit.ly/bb3t8P

    Comment by NightKhaos on 15 February 2010 at 07:50