June 23, 2011 | By Jillian York

Australia Heads Down the Slippery Slope, Authorizes ISPs to Filter

Starting next month, the vast majority of Australia’s Internet users will find their access censored, following a decision by the country’s two largest providers--Telstra and Optus--as well as two smaller ISPs (itExtreme and Webshield), to voluntarily block more than 500 websites from view.

The decision from the two ISPs comes after numerous failed attempts by the Australian government to set up a centralized filtering plan.

In the new voluntary scheme, ISPs will block sites containing “the appropriate subsection of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) blacklist as well as child abuse URLs that are provided by reputable international organisations,” according to News.com.au.

The problem with such a plan is multi-layered: First, there is no transparency in the selection of URLs to be blacklisted, and no accountability from the regulatory bodies creating the blacklists. The “reputable international organizations” providing child abuse URLs have not been named, but may include the Internet Watch Foundation, a UK-based organization that in 2008 advised UK ISPs to block a Wikipedia page containing an album cover from the 1970s that they deemed might be illegal.

The ACMA itself has run into problems with its blacklist as well. After Wikileaks published the regulator’s blacklist in 2009, it was discovered that the list contained the website of a Queensland-based dentist, as well as numerous other sites unrelated to child sexual abuse or illegal pornography.

Second, filtering does little to curb the trade of child pornography, much of which is traded across peer to peer networks and VPNs. Filtering it from the world wide web may simply push it further underground.

Third, there appears to be no appeals process in the Australian ISPs’ scheme, thereby making it difficult for sites erroneously caught up in the filter to challenge the block.

Lastly, the introduction of a filter sets precedent for the ISPs to filter more sites in the future at the behest of the ACMA. If the ACMA were to make the decision that sites deemed "indecent" or politically controversial--for example--should be off-limits, would the ISPs comply?


Deeplinks Topics

Stay in Touch

NSA Spying

EFF is leading the fight against the NSA's illegal mass surveillance program. Learn more about what the program is, how it works, and what you can do.

Follow EFF

A deep dive into XKEYSCORE, one of the NSA's creepiest spying tools: https://eff.org/r.c6hp

Jul 3 @ 3:12pm

Come to EFF HQ on July 8 for a book talk with author of "Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Tech" https://eff.org/r.i3fv

Jul 2 @ 4:57pm

EFF is turning 25! Here's the who, what, when, where, how, and—maybe most importantly—why of our celebration: https://eff.org/r.6dov

Jul 2 @ 4:51pm
JavaScript license information