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: http://www.efa.org.au/Publish/PR000629.html http://www.peacefire.org/censorware/SurfWatch/efa-blocked-release.6-29-2000.txt -------------------------------------------------------------- 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: http://www.peacefire.org/censorware/SurfWatch/efa-blocked.gif Screen shot of SA Liberal Party web site being blocked by Surfwatch: http://www.peacefire.org/censorware/SurfWatch/liberal-party-blocked.gif Australian Code of Practice for ISPs - Schedule of Approved Filters: http://www.iia.net.au/code6.html#8 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 http://www.noie.gov.au/publications/NOIE/consumer/CSIROfinalreport.html 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." http://www.sa.liberal.org.au/sc99/resolutions.html EFA's Freedom of Information Application to the ABA: http://www.efa.org.au/FOI/foi_aba_2000.htm Surfwatch: http://www.surfwatch.com
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