Open Internet logoThe news this week that the Australian Securities and Investment Commission has admitted to inadvertently blocking 1,200 websites while attempting to shut down one fraudulent site displays the agency’s technical incompetence. The revelation yesterday that they have actually blocked numerous websites over the last nine months is a worrying sign for digital access in Australia.

It is a real concern that after the government finally abandoned their plans for a mandatory internet filter last year, we now discover that not only do individual government agencies have the power to block access to websites, they have been doing just that for the better part of a year without any public accountability.

EFA recognises that agencies like ASIC have a duty to enforce Australian law and to protect Australian consumers, however these examples raise some very serious concerns, including the following:

  • the lack of transparency about the fact that agencies such as ASIC were unilaterally blocking websites, and what other government agencies may also be taking such action
  • the lack of any apparent oversight of the decision making process to block sites
  • the obvious lack of technical competence
  • the lack of clarity around the appropriateness of the legal powers used by ASIC to justify its actions, under section 313 of the Telecommunications Act

If individual government agencies are taking independent action to block websites without appropriate oversight and transparency, the implications are arguably more serious than those involved with the government's thoroughly discredited and now abandoned mandatory internet filter. Having potentially dozens of separate agencies acting to block sites independently, with different internal processes and varying levels of technical understanding, and with differing levels of compliance from different ISPs, is a recipe for chaos.

This approach is also remarkably ineffective. When this incident first came to light last month, EFA's own investigations showed that only some ISPs had in fact implemented a block on the IP address in question. Many Australians were therefore still able to access the fraudulent site(s) that ASIC was targeting, a fact that made it very difficult to determine the source of the block. It is only due to the excellent investigative work by Renai Le May from Delimiter, and others, that the real story has now come to light.

As we noted earlier Communications Minister Stephen Conroy himself said last year that notices under s313 would only be used to block the 'worst of the worst' of child pornography.

EFA remains opposed to government-imposed internet filtering, and calls on the government to urgently address this issue, to:

  • identify which agencies are/have been requesting ISPs to block websites under section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, and how many such actions have been taken to date
  • define the processes that are in place to ensure that such requests are justified, subject to appropriate auditing and oversight and do not impose unnecessary operational burdens on ISPs
  • clarify the legality of such actions

Australians deserve an open internet and have a right to know by whom, under what circumstances, and for what reasons any attempts at filtering or censorship are being made. Help EFA continue to fight for digital freedom, access and privacy by donating or joining today.

 

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