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Mar 20, 2009

ACMA’s blacklist just got read all over

The more you try to hide your controversial Internet blacklist, Senator Conroy, the bigger you make it, the bigger the incentive for someone to leak it, writes Stilgherrian.

Dear Government, look, I hate to say we told you so, but … we told you so. On Wednesday. The more you try to hide your controversial Internet blacklist, the bigger you make it, the bigger the incentive for someone to leak it.

For money. For political advantage. For the sheer bl-ody fun of sticking it to The Man. And, yes, maybe someone might even leak it because they’re one of that tiny number of sick b-stards who get off on child p-rnography.

Actually, we — that is, we the Australian people — told you so in October when network engineer Mark Newton wrote about the risks of a leak. Maybe it was even before that because, as Newton told Crikey, “The concept has always been so obvious that I’ve never thought it particularly notable to talk about.”

American bank robber “Slick” Willie Sutton was (probably apocryphally) asked why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is.” ACMA compiles a virtual bank vault of nasty websites and hands the keys to the makers of filter software and from there, it’s planned, every ISP in Australia — including many low-margin businesses which, let’s face it, don’t have the security procedures of an ASIO or an MI5. As yesterday’s leak to whisteblower website Wikileaks proves.

Within minutes of Asher Moses’ story yesterday and his tweet, the blacklist was seen by thousands who would otherwise have never been interested. Yes, the Streisand Effect.

Now, Senator Stephen Conroy reckons the leaked list isn’t the ACMA list. This list has 2395 URLs (specific web page addresses) and ACMA’s has 1600-odd. Wikileaks says the leaked list is what some unnamed censorship software uses when it’s switched to “adult-unfiltered (ACMA) mode” — presumably the ACMA list with stuff added. So it’s at least indicative, and it illustrates the problems inherent in any backlist.

It’s a pretty sh-t piece of work.

A Queensland dentist’s website which was hacked and serving out p-rnography but fixed two years ago? Highly-specific URLs with page-view parameters which only block a specific version of the page but not others? URLs with session ID numbers, which only block one specific user on one day, but allow everyone else through?

I guess we’ll never know who’s responsible for this list. Who’d own up to such breathtaking incompetence?

Then there are those two undeniable facts:

One, a manually-compiled list of 1600 URLs, or Conroy’s planned 10,000, or 50,000, can’t possibly keep up with the vast flow of content generated by 1,581,571,589 Internet users (as of December 2008)  and counting. Remember, Australia’s Internet censorship rules say anything rated MA15+ or higher without an age-verification mechanism is “prohibited” or “potentially prohibited” content. Could ACMA ever have the staff to maintain a list of sufficient scale to be of any real value?

Two, ped-philes don’t distribute their nasties on open websites — unless they’re complete idiots. As Inspector John Rouse told the authors of The P-rn Report, they communicate secretly through peer-to-peer software and other more secure methods.

But all this has been communicated to the Minister many times.

“You get into trouble when politicians start picking technologies,” Conroy was told by his predecessor, Senator Helen Coonan. Maybe he should have listened. Crikey explained 14 months ago why lists and filters won’t work  and why geeks get angry when you ignore that advice.

Maybe the time has come to start listening.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam agrees, and says Conroy should dump the filter trials and ask the industry for advice. After all, there’s 20 years of Internet expertise out there.

“Ask the question of the online community and the child protection community more generally ‘What’s the best way to protect children online?’, whether it’s from being poached in chatrooms, coming across [adult] material, or falling victim to some of the syndicates that are out there — all of the areas which net filtering won’t even go close to touching,” Ludlam said.

Asking people who might know the answer, and who aren’t just trying to sell a magic filter box? Goodness. That sounds like … what is that phrase again? Oh yes. “Evidence-based policy.”

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8 thoughts on “ACMA’s blacklist just got read all over

  1. Joel B1

    I don’t advocate this but it’s the sort of advice we’ll lose if the filter goes ahead: ie how to bait pedos.

    (note that the language used is net-talk, frankly I only understand the gist)

    “Playing the Van

    The lulziest method, however, requires a good actor to pull it off. Watching the pedo shit himself is near-priceless. The method is simple. Just play as a delicious loli or delectable shota, until you get the pedo to make a sexual advance or two. If you can get a phone number, ask to call, and ask who to speak to; That way, you know their name as well, which helps a lot. Then, paste this delicious copypasta into the chat.

    NOTICE TO PARTICIPANT: The Federal Bureau of Investigation has logged a record of this chat along with the IP addresses of the participants due to violation of United States federal law. VIOLATION: Solicitation of a minor. IMPORTANT: If you believe this chat to be logged in error, please state your reasons to the F.B.I. Monitoring agent observing this chat and quote reference number 3744956127. Failure to do so within the next 2 minutes will result in your IP address being entered in our criminal database and prosecution. Your IP address has been recorded by the Child Internet Service protection Agency. Please wait while reference code 3744956127 is entered into the database.

    Once this is done, do your best to behave, respond, and overall act like an FBI agent.

    Usually, this produces one of two responses:

    * Utter disbelief, in which the pedo refuses to believe you are FBI. This is anti-lulz and requires some good acting on your part to convince this person you are an FBI monitor. This is where that name and phone number come in handy.
    * Total shock and horror. The lulz roll in as they try to escape their perceived doom, and you just have to keep the train rolling.

    An excellent example of an epic win at this method: http://www.en[removed]

    Don’t forget to use a proxy, moron. Otherwise, you’ll end up like the Drews. “

  2. Joel B1

    If you’re going to Czechoslovakia you might be interested in THIS restaurant:
    It seems to be a nice restaurant in Czechoslovakia, but who knows, maybe it’s a front for pedos?

    Which brings me in a roundabout way to what I consider an interesting point. If it’s illegal to make public a site on the list how are they going to take some-one to court? Surely they’ld have to say in court (a public space) that this person linked to/told people etc about these particular websites. Ironically breaking the very law they’ld be attempting to prosecute some-one under.

    Of course, they could always do it under terrorism legislation…

    One further point, I emailed a site in the USA saying how they might possibly be on a secret blacklist.
    The Madam (I’ve heard that that’s the appropriate term?) emailed back:


    Thanks for your concern. We’re following this of course, and there’s very
    strong opposition to it in Australia, including that from business and the
    media. So whether it can made mandatory remains to be seen.

    Team ….”

    Funnily enough, of the several legitimate businesses I emailed this was the only reply I got. Shows how customer oriented that business is…

    And one really final point. There are SOME sites that are anti-pedo. I’m anti-pedo myself. From these sites I’ve learnt a few of the “signs” that pedos use to help communicate with each other.
    Again this is an interesting point. By making these things public am I helping would-be pedos to learn how-to-do-it? or helping people identify pedo networks.

    I tend towards the “make it public”. So if you use a cute furry bear as your avatar I suggest you change it. If you use the letter combination “cp” too often, change it. WE’re onto you…


  3. Miriam

    I’m really confused about what Conroy is intending to block (or thinks he is). Is it all adult erotica, or just child porn? On the one hand it’s reported that he’s going to block anything not rated suitable for children (which cuts out many sites and discussion groups that have nothing to do with porn or gambling); and then I hear it includes illegal gambling sites. He’s also saying he’ll make the internet safe for children – what is his definition of safety? I know some people who even think his filter will mean bare boobs on the net will be a thing of the past.

    From what I’ve read there must by now be more than one billion web pages that show porn – is he planning to block all of them or are some of them considered to be suitable for children?

    And now he’s banning political sites as well. That’s totally over the top – or probably would be if it wasn’t likely that we could get around that one way or another.

    The Age is reporting that Conroy is monitoring what we say about him online – I figure that has to be a good thing. Maybe he or his minders will wake up to the fact that Australians don’t tolerate tyrants!

  4. Bob Dean

    There must surely be some very bad legal consequences to come out of this wacky decison. Will someone mistakenly believe a site is legal because they can access it ? . And if we don’t know which sites are illegal-how can we know if we are breaking the law by linking to them ?. Not until the police come knocking on the door ?.

    What if someone were to make a post on a fairly unmoderated site like crikey and tthat comment was deemed to contain ‘illegal’ information’ ? Could crikey be banned (without us knowing) and then all it’s readers are in trouble ?.

    As it is-from last night I discovered I can’t reach wikileaks which is a shame-reading previously unreleased government documents was incredibly useful. I have no care for accessing porn sites.

    That nutcase from Child Wise probably sums it up without realising what she has said. She practically accuses “all 15 year old boys” as being pedos by stating that because the a list of banned sites exists on the web-“all 15 year old boys will want to access it ! “(Australian 19/3/09). Do we really want to demonize and make Aussie citizens into crims(including curious 15 year old boys) for inadvertently or purposefully accessing banned sites-or their links ?

    Come on Mr Conroy-you need to really re-think this one !.

  5. Andrew P

    What is the effective difference between wishing paed-philes would dissapear, which is not a serious policy proposal, and wishing there was a technology which would make paed-philes dissapear, which is being forwarded as a serious policy proposal? Like carbon-capture and storage, you can’t take seriously a man who is just asserting the existance of a little black box which happens to solve all of his real-world problems.

  6. Gail

    Ask the industry, not the censorware vendors perhaps? Get a non vested interest consultancy group with judical, civil rights and technical members.

    There was substantial coverage on line by most of the major media outlets, but almost all of them removed parts of the story after publishing. I’m concerned with the broadcast media’s appearance of self-censorship on this issue. Rumours of interviews and appearances cancelled by the media. There was no obligation to discuss the details or supply graphic details. What sort of democracy do we live in when the media is too scared to report? The ABC’s 7:30 Report scrounged up some woman saying computer games were bad for kids but couldn’t mention one of the important issues of the day. There was some radio coverage. There are non child pornography sites on the blacklist. There are many legal sites and many innocent sites? Yes, geeks have been saying this for years, but that’s no reason for the media to cowering under the table. The fact that it is ACMA’s blacklist at a previous date is no longer in dispute.

    Possibly the fact that ACMA is the chief censor and also controls broadcasting licences? Perhaps Senator Conroy applied some sort of pressure? Either way it’s of great concern. The same media are happy to discuss spurious videos of political candidates. Our censorship and content control regime is already one of the most repressive and complex amongst the western democracies. That is also censorship on a fairly large scale. At what point does this stop? Or does it?

  7. Stilgherrian

    You know, in the rush to get this piece written to deadline, I forgot that Senator Conroy’s department had plenty of warning of the potential risks of a blacklist leaking. The report which the Internet Industry Association (IIA) prepared for the Howard government warned of exactly this possibility.

    Of course Conroy’s office disowned the report because it was the previous government’s — this strange aspect of politics where the validity of an argument isn’t based on facts or logic but on who’s saying it, “them” or “us”.

    The report is available at:

    Also, it has since been confirmed by Wikileaks and others that the leaked blacklist was indeed from a specific filter provider. An Australian one, as it happens. More on that anon.

  8. Perry Gretton

    WIKILEAKS PRESS RELEASE (for immediate release)
    Thu Mar 19 23:07:20 EDT 2009

    “Wikileaks to Conroy: Go after our source and we will go after you.”

    The Stockholm based publisher of Wikileaks today issued a warning to the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Steven Conroy, who is responsible for Australian internet censorship.

    Senator Conroy, in an official media release yesterday, claimed, in response to the release of the Australian internet censorship list by Wikileaks, that his department, “is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution.”

    Sunshine Press Legal Adviser Jay Lim stated:

    “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.

    Source documents are received in Sweden and published from Sweden so as to derive maximum benefit from this legal protection. Should the Senator or anyone else attempt to discover our source we will refer the matter to the Constitutional Police for prosecution, and if necessary, ask that the Senator and anyone else involved be extradited to face justice for breaching fundamental rights.”

    Senator Conroy may wish to consider the position of the South African Competition Commission, which decided to cancel its own high profile leak investigation in January after being advised of the legal ramifications of interfering with Sunshine Press sources.