[ Electronic Frontiers Australia ]

Media Release


Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc.

                                              29 June 2000

Government approved Net filters attempt to silence critics

	Electronic Frontiers Australia (www.efa.org.au) has been selected 
as "Blocked Site of the Day" (http://www.peacefire.org/BSOTD/) for Thursday
29 June by Peacefire, a US-based organisation supporting free speech for
Internet users under 18. Peacefire recently discovered that, for the last
five months, the EFA web site had been on a list of "sexually explicit"
sites blocked by SurfWatch, although EFA's site does not contain sexually
explicit material. 

	Peacefire also found the Liberal Party of Australia South
Australian Division's web site blocked by SurfWatch. Last August, the SA
State Council resolved that "the Federal Government should revoke its
recently introduced Internet Censorship legislation as it is unworkable".

	EFA and Peacefire have been outspoken critics of blocking software
and the Australian Government approved Code of Practice for ISPs which came
into effect with Australian Internet censorship laws in January. Under the
Code, ISPs are required to provide their customers with blocking software
from an approved list, with costs being passed on to the end user.
SurfWatch is one of several American-made blocking programs listed as an
"Approved Filter" in the Code.

	"The Code states that filters are added to the list only after
approval by the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Internet Industry
Association, so you'd think someone had checked that they operate as
advertised," said Irene Graham, EFA's Executive Director. "Not so. Although
the approved filters were selected from a list in a government-commissioned
filter evaluation report, that report emphasises that filters were 'not
tested for how well they carry out filtering, and hence fitness for purpose
is not warranted'. There's been no indication that the ABA or the IIA
subsequently made any attempt to check the suppliers' claims."

	Both EFA and Peacefire have also expressed concern that software
designed around the standards of the American "Bible Belt" will make
blocking decisions that seem ridiculous to Australians, such as the
blocking of the EFA Web site by SurfWatch.  

	"While a private company can legally block any site that it wants
to, the software recommendations in the Code of Practice were based in part
on statements submitted by the blocking software companies, many of which
have been contradicted by third-party investigations," said Bennett
Haselton, Peacefire's webmaster.  

	Statements on the SurfWatch Web page include: "Before adding any
site to our database, each site 'candidate' is reviewed by a SurfWatch
Content Specialist"; "We only block those sites that match these criteria";
"We review the impact that each word or site block will have once
implemented in our filters".

	"Such claims are obviously false," said Graham.  "EFA's site
does not contain 'sexually explicit' material and we have never received
complaints about content. On the contrary we receive thanks, and also
requests for further information from students and teachers regarding
government policy and legislation relating to the Internet. It is
disturbing that some schools may install SurfWatch on the basis that it is
'approved', thereby blocking students from accessing resources they find
useful during research for school assignments."

	Haselton added: "SurfWatch claims that a query tool on their Web
site can be used to determine whether a site is blocked by SurfWatch.
However, tests have shown that the form on the SurfWatch site often returns
incorrect results, saying in this case that "http://www.efa.org.au/" is
"not blocked", when in fact the EFA site has been blocked by SurfWatch
since February 2000".

	As well as sites a filter supplier would block of their own accord,
the block lists of "Approved Filters" such as SurfWatch may include sites
notified to them by the Australian Broadcasting Authority under Australia's
Internet censorship laws. It is not clear whether filter suppliers lose
their approved filter status if they fail to block sites notified to them
by the ABA, nor whether filter suppliers check sites notified by the ABA.
The ABA does not publicly disclose details of sites notified to approved
filter suppliers. 

	"The Australian public has a right to know exactly which Internet
sites the ABA is attempting to control access to, in the same way that
decisions banning particular films, publications and computer games are
made public," said Graham. "EFA has been attempting to obtain details of
such sites for several months under Freedom of Information legislation."

	Ironically, last August the Liberal Party SA State Council
commended legislation forcing ISPs to make blocking software available to
customers. Perhaps they did not expect their own site to end up on the
secret blacklist of a government approved filter.

   Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc  --  http://www.efa.org.au/
   EFA is a non-profit organisation representing Internet users concerned
   with on-line freedoms. EFA's site contains information about
   governmental policy and law concerning the Internet.

   Peacefire.org -- http://www.peacefire.org
   Peacefire is the largest organisation supporting free speech for 
   Internet users under 18.  Peacefire's "Blocked Site of the Day" 
   features political, medical, and educational sites that have been 
   blocked by different blocking software programs.
   URL of this release: 

   Media Contacts:

   Irene Graham                       Bennett Haselton
   Electronic Frontiers Australia     Peacefire
   Phone: +61 (2) 9255 7969           Phone: +1 (425) 649 9024        
          0412 997 163                


Background Information:

Screen shot of EFA web site being blocked by Surfwatch:

Screen shot of SA Liberal Party web site being blocked by Surfwatch:

Australian Code of Practice for ISPs - Schedule of Approved Filters:

Australian Government Commissioned Filter Evaluation Report:
"Access Prevention Techniques for Internet Content Filtering" prepared for
the National Office for the Information Economy by Paul Greenfield, Philip
McCrea, Shuping Ran (CSIRO), December 1999

Liberal Party of Australia: SA Division, Resolution - August 1999
"That this State Council believes:
1. That legislation forcing Internet Service Providers to make web content
filtering software available to new customers within the price of their
service is a worthwhile means of addressing parental concerns about
Internet content."
.2 The Federal Government should revoke its recently introduced Internet
Censorship legislation as it is unworkable and will deter investment in the
telecommunications sector."

EFA's Freedom of Information Application to the ABA:



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