Skip to main content

Australia Wants to Censor the Internet

Australia has been heavily criticized for its plans to implement an ISP-level Internet content filter. While the government's initial statement was that the filter would block "inappropriate" material, a recent leak of the supposed blacklist has shown that seemingly innocent business websites are also in the process of being excluded from access by their customers, including a dentist., a website created for publishing confidential government and corporate documents while keeping sources anonymous, posted what it claims to be the Australian Communications and Media Authority's (ACMA) blacklist last week. Naturally, the ACMA and Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, denied that the list was authentic.

Among the websites in the list obtained by Wikileaks is that of the dental office Dental Distinction. The ACMA confirmed to the office that its website was indeed on the official list as well, but did not provide reasons. A school cafeteria consultancy company was also included on Wikileaks' blacklist, however the ACMA denied that the company's website would be blocked. Additionally, several Wikileaks pages have also made the ban list, which is what prompted the site to leak the information in the first place.

According to Conroy, “There are some common URLs to those on the ACMA blacklist. However, ACMA advises that there are URLs on the published list that have never been the subject of a complaint or ACMA investigation, and have never been included on the ACMA blacklist.”

The ACMA said that the list dated August 6, 2008 can not possibly be real because the official list at the time contained 1061 URLs, while the list obtained by Wikileaks contains 2395. Wikileaks later posted lists dated March 11 and March 18. The site also said that the ACMA did a cleanup between these two dates, resulting in a current official list containing only 1172 URLs, a number much closer to what the ACMA said the number was in August.

Shortly after the possible leaking of the government's blacklist, Internet Service Provider iiNet released a statement (PDF) saying it is pulling out of the current content filter trials. Michael Malone, Managing Director of iiNet, said that the ISP “only agreed to participate in the trial to demonstrate that the policy was fundamentally flawed, a waste of taxpayers' money and would not work.”

In a press release, Conroy stated that he may involve the Australian Federal Police because the release of information regarding the blacklist “undermines efforts to improve cyber–safety and create a safe online environment for children.” Wikileaks hit back at Conroy, saying, “Under the Swedish Constitution's Press Freedom Act, the right of a confidential press source to anonymity is protected, and criminal penalties apply to anyone acting to breach that right.”