KOMPAS.com - As Australia's biggest internet providers begin blocking an Interpol list of child abuse websites, the communications regulator is quietly compiling its own similar blacklist.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) confirmed it was building a list of URLs that “potentially contains child abuse material” and having them formally reviewed by the Classification Board. Sites on the blacklist have been categorised by the Board as “ACMA – ISP FILTERING”.
Optus, Telstra and Primus are among the internet service providers (ISPs) to have already committed to blocking child abuse content for their customers.
This filtering scheme – voluntary for ISPs but not users - is much milder than the mandatory filtering policy proposed by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, which the government has shelved but remains committed to.
Even before ACMA's blacklist is delivered, ISPs such as Telstra have been blocking Interpol's list of child abuse links since July 1. Whether they will take on ACMA's blacklist is still an open question.
“We continue to work with ACMA regarding the blocking of a list of child abuse sites it generates,” a Telstra spokeswoman said.
Optus said it was in the process of implementing blocks of Interpol's list for its customers but had not yet committed to filtering ACMA's list. Primus would not comment.
While ACMA's blacklist is separate to the Interpol list the government says it sees filtering the Interpol blacklist as just an “interim step” while ACMA's list is being prepared.
However, the Internet Industry Association (IIA) warned that blocking websites at ACMA's request – as opposed to Interpol's - could be seen as ISPs implementing the government's mandatory filters “through the backdoor”.
Anti-censorship lobbyists criticise any internet censorship efforts, arguing the sheer amount of content on the internet makes any attempts futile. A compromise scheme
After the Federal Government shelved its much-maligned mandatory internet filter policy pending a review of the scope of content to be blocked by the scheme, ISPs sought to defuse the issue by agreeing to voluntarily block child abuse material.
Critics claimed Senator Conroy's scheme – much broader than just child abuse material - would be open to abuse and would block reams of legitimate, innocuous content.
ACMA yesterday clarified that its child abuse list would include “material that meets the criteria for Refused Classification under the National Classification Code for containing offensive depictions or descriptions of children”.
The list of URLs, which ACMA has not yet begun distributing to ISPs, was being formally classified by the Classification Board “in preparation” for the voluntary ISP blocking scheme.
“The ACMA investigates content – at specific URLs (webpages or images), not whole websites – that may be prohibited upon receipt of a valid complaint,” ACMA said.
But Conroy's mandatory filters still kicking
Senator Conroy's spokesman said the government was still committed to introducing its heavily criticised mandatory ISP filtering scheme, which would see all “refused classification” (RC) material blocked by ISPs on a mandatory basis.
But the spokesman said the legal obligation to implement the mandatory scheme would not commence until the government was able to conduct a review of the RC category.
The review, which is being conducted by the Australian Law Reform Commission, was announced following claims RC was too broad to be the basis of a mandatory censorship scheme.
“The Government remains committed to introducing legislation to require all ISPs to block the RC content list,” Senator Conroy's spokesman said.
“While the RC review is going on, work is underway to support voluntary filtering of child abuse content, which Telstra, Optus and Primus undertook to voluntarily block.”
He said the government saw the blocking of the Interpol list as an “interim step” before ACMA's child abuse list is adopted. Net industry prefers Interpol to ACMA
A spokesman for the Internet Industry Association (IIA) said while individual ISPs could decide to filter ACMA's list, the industry's view was that it preferred to deal with Interpol and the Australian Federal Police as opposed to ACMA.
Dealing with Interpol and the police “very clearly ferments the proposition that the cooperation they're seeking from ISPs is of a law enforcement nature and not one of censorship … we get away from any idea that we're implementing effectively mandatory filtering through the backdoor”.
“I think there is some uncertainty around the legal status of ISPs acting upon notifications from ACMA versus that which they may receive from the police where the legal powers are far more clearly defined under the Telecommunications Act,” the IIA spokesman said. Internet censorship 'futile'
Stephen Collins, spokesman for the online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said any attempt to filter the internet was inevitably futile.
“Any action taken as a consequence of the making of such a list barely scratches the surface of activity related to child sexual abuse, which doesn't take place on the public web and is rarely available via it,” said Collins.
“Even if we're not talking about child sexual abuse material, trying to classify the web is futile. It's too big, too fluid.”
The IIA said these criticisms missed the point as the filter was just “one piece of the puzzle” and would ideally work in conjunction with an effective legal framework, policing and education campaigns.
University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt, who has been a high-profile critic of Senator Conroy's mandatory filtering scheme, said he had no issues with a voluntary scheme that only targeted child abuse links.
It is highly likely that any blacklist of banned sites will be leaked, as has already occurred with previous ACMA blacklists. Furthermore, filtering schemes can generally be bypassed relatively easily by tech savvy users.
Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam is on leave but in a recent radio interview said he was less concerned about the voluntary blocking scheme because it was much narrower than the one originally proposed by the government.
“Most of the filter campaigners who have expressed a view on this voluntary system think it's either irrelevant or dangerous to the extent that it may be even less regulated than the government's scheme,” Senator Ludlam said.
“But at least we've stopped having the argument about the much greyer areas around the [mandatory] refused classification scheme while that review is going on in the background.”