After lobbying by a number of internet users and civil liberties groups, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has told Computerworld that he believes greater transparency is needed in relation to actions taken by government agencies to block access to websites.
Referring to ASIC’s blocking of 1,200 sites as a “mistake”, he said that he would ask his Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) to put forward suggestions on how to strengthen transparency, which could include a notice alerting people that a website they are attempting to access has been blocked, including a point of contact to find out more information.
It was revealed last week that ASIC had blocked up 1,200 websites in an effort to shut down one allegedly fraudulent website. Concerns were raised in April when Melbourne Free University were told by their ISP that the IP address hosting their website had been blocked by Australian authorities. Subsequent investigations revealed that ASIC was the source of the block, and that they had been using Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to block websites for as long as 9 months.
Minister Conroy claims that both he and his department were unaware that ASIC was using s313 to have websites blocked. This, and the technical incompetence displayed by ASIC, which lead to some 1,200 completely unrelated sites also being blocked (including over 90 sites with .au domain names), demonstrates the need for clearly defined processes to be put in place for all government agencies.
Minister Conroy has denied that s313 will be used a backdoor way of implementing an internet filter. This is his opportunity to prove it.
EFA welcomes this move by the Minister and stands ready to assist in the development of appropriate controls and processes relating to the use of the Telecommunications Act to block access to websites, including a publicly available list of such blocked websites. EFA therefore reiterates our call for the Minister 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; and,
- 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.