Australian Government Announces That It Is Dropping Mandatory ISP Filtering…But Still Wants Filtering

from the run-that-by-us-again dept

Techdirt has been writing about Australia’s plans to join the online censorship club for almost three years. Now, in a surprise move pointed out to us on Twitter by @Asher_Wolf, the Australian government has announced that it is dropping the plans — sort of:

The Federal Government has formally abandoned plans to introduce legislation for mandatory ISP filtering, closing a dark chapter in politics concerning Australia’s internet.

However, confusingly, it does still want Australian Net feeds to be filtered:

Instead, internet service providers will be directed by the Government and the Australian Federal Police to block “child abuse websites” that feature on an INTERPOL block list.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said in a statement that “Australia’s largest ISPs have been issued notices requiring them to block these illegal sites in accordance with their obligations under the Telecommunications Act 1997”.

Most people would probably approve of blocking that particular class of sites, but there are some wider issues here. First, it’s a little disingenuous of the Australian government to claim that it is dropping plans to censor the Internet, since it plainly still intends to do that, albeit in a specific area. As we know from experience elsewhere, once the apparatus of censorship is in place, there is always pressure to add sites unrelated to the original blocking list.

The other issue is whether this nominal climbdown was part of the plan all along. After all, it’s a standard tactic to make totally outrageous initial demands so that anything less seems almost reasonable by comparison. Or perhaps this was Plan B: try to push through ISP filtering as Plan A, and if that fails, drop back to “limited” censorship.

Since it seems unlikely that those who fought against the general censorship plans will be able to muster much support for the idea of not blocking child abuse sites, the key question now is whether it will be possible to stop this approach turning into precisely the kind of ISP filtering that the Australian government claims to have abandoned.

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Comments on “Australian Government Announces That It Is Dropping Mandatory ISP Filtering…But Still Wants Filtering”

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Thomas (profile) says:

Re: Maybe I'm missing something...

It’s illegal to host I’m sure, and illegal to look at.

However, it’s not actively filtered. So you could browse a site hosted in a country where it isn’t illegal, and most likely get away with it.

That’s the thing about the internet that has lawmakers scratching their heads. It’s become so easy to visit other countries, they don’t know how to enforce laws any more. That’s why so many of these attempts seem amateurish and perplexing (at best).

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Maybe I'm missing something...

But given I would assume such sites would be illegal already, what exactly is the government wanting done that isn’t already being done?

The Telecommunications Act 1997 has a provision that “persons that are carriers or carriage service providers within the meaning of that Act” are bound by any international convention that Australia is a signatory to, and which the Minister declares applies to these persons.

Here’s the current list according to COMLAW. I’d wager that the actual “change” is that this INTERPOL resolution is going to be gazetted as applying to the “persons” covered by the act, or it already has been and COMLAW didn’t get the message yet.

Big Al says:

Re: Maybe I'm missing something...

The main point is that now the only blocking will be according to a specific list provided by Interpol.
Previously the ‘filter’ would have been a totally opaque list provided by the government to ISPs with no oversight (other than the government) and no comeback if you’re:
a) mistakenly put on there (see the Queensland Dentist)
b) put on there because you have annoyed said government
c) put on there because your opinion doesn’t quite match up to said government.

I have no problem with blocking sites that an international law enforcement body deems illegal. I do have a problem with my government having unfettered access to a mandatory block list, especially with the current bunch of drongoes we have.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Maybe I'm missing something...

“I have no problem with blocking sites that an international law enforcement body deems illegal. I do have a problem with my government having unfettered access to a mandatory block list, especially with the current bunch of drongoes we have”

So let me get this straight. You think it is bad for a single government that can at least be held somewhat accountable by it’s people to create a list of websites that will be censored, but you feel it is ok to have the list be created by an international law enforcement group that is only accountable to…really nobody?

Anonymous Coward says:

Been a bit of a discussion to this topic internal to sage-au, from some of the folks who were instrumental in getting the original proposal knocked back.
Basically, they don’t anticipate this being problematic as it’s stuff that’s already in AU law; and unlikely in the extreme to be used: “Because the AFP isn’t in the business of distributing child pornography URLs to DNS sysadmins in ISPs”
The govt save face by giving the appearance of having Done Something, when in reality they’ve done zippo; no new powers to abuse.

I’d take the statements for what they are: Fed Govt spin to sexy up a massive election promise reversal.

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