Aug 4, 2011

Is voluntary internet filtering a crime?

The voluntary filtering being introduced by some of Australia's major internet service providers (ISPs) is on shaky legal ground.

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster


Technology writer and broadcaster

The voluntary filtering being introduced by some of Australia’s major internet service providers (ISPs) is on shaky legal ground. Blocking access to blacklisted websites could even be a crime.

Since July 1, Telstra, Optus and some smaller member ISPs of the Internet Industry Association (IIA) have been introducing content filters based on Interpol’s blacklist of child exploitation material rather than the relevant portions of the blacklist that  continues to be compiled by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

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11 thoughts on “Is voluntary internet filtering a crime?

  1. Ronson Dalby

    I think the fact the ISPs so far involved haven’t announced the filters to their customers (would most people even know about they were now in operation if you didn’t read the tech websites?) nor include any information about them on their websites or in their terms of service speaks volumes.

  2. Ronson Dalby

    “As long as the terms of service allow the ISP to do this, then this whole complicated legal question goes away, and it is very easy for the ISPs to change their terms of service.”

    How does the ISPs changing their ToSs get past

    “There is potentially or possibly an argument that the actual filtering of the Interpol blacklist itself could under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act constitute an impairment of an electronic communication, which could actually be a criminal offence,” said Peter Black, QUT internet law lecturer, on the Patch Monday podcast.

    It’s s477(3). Maximum penalty 10 years in prison.

    The Telecommunication Act’s s313(5) provisions only protect ISPs and other carriage providers from civil action. And the internet filters might not actually be “authorised” in law.”?

  3. Stilgherrian

    @Ronson Dalby: My understanding is that if the blocking of sites on the Interpol blacklist is made part of the terms of service, then failing to connect to a site because it’s blacklisted is no longer a fault causing an impairment to communication but the communications system working properly as advertised. IANAL.

  4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    I’m not too worried if anyone filters the internet using an Interpol list of kiddy p*rn sites.

    Of course this is probably useless as it would not take long for anyone to work out how to bypass it, but at least this filter will not effect most Australians.

    Remember that Conroy (and thus the Labor cabinet) initially wanted to filter all x-rated content.

    They then wanted to filter all RC (Refused Classification) content. They deliberately distorted what this meant by implying that RC equalled illegal content.

    (Illegal content is something that you are not allowed to own, such as kiddy p*rn, whilst RC content is legal to own, but illegal to sell.)

    We also need to remember that in Australia, whilst it is legal for two 17 year olds to have sex, if they photography this they are producing child p*rn, if they send it to someone they are distributing it, and if they take their camera or computer overseas, and come back to Oz, they are importing child p*rn.

    RC content also includes any sexual content where the women has small breasts (yep, even if the women is clearly over 30, if she has very small breasts and it is sexual, it is RC). It also includes much mild fetish, as well as the stronger stuff.

    Thus the very strange RC rules mean that probably every overseas x-rated site would have something that our censors would deem RC. Thus the whole site would be banned. (Conroy pretended that only particular pictures or videos would be filtered, but the leaked black lists included some standard x-rated sites, and as many sites publish several new photos every minute, it is clearly either filter the whole site or let it all through.)

    We must also remember that RC includes political content that conservatives don’t like. So if the Labor cabinet had their way the filter would ban more than just s*x.

    So I’m not worried about filtering of an Interpol list. But I’m very worried about what future religious conservatives (in both Labor and Liberal) may do in the future.

  5. Ronson Dalby

    “So I’m not worried about filtering of an Interpol list. But I’m very worried about what future religious conservatives (in both Labor and Liberal) may do in the future.”

    Is the former worth the risk of the latter and future governments? What government doesn’t take all the power it can get?

    Do you really think that most of the CP is located on open websites? If it is, how hard is to close the few down? And how many children are saved from abuse by blocking a website which is bit like pulling the blanket over your head when there’s a burglar downstairs.

    I’ve been trying to find a link but on the ABC radio news at 11.00 there was a report that police has arrested an Internet CP ring of about 400 people. For a start I bet they weren’t using an open website and secondly isn’t this a better for Interpol and other police forces to use their funds?

    Look, I just don’t trust governments with this kind of power. I watched a very interesting documentary on euthanasia last week and I want to be able continue to look at things like that if I wish to.

  6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)


    Real CP is of course hidden away.

    I’m old enough to see anyone under 30 as young, but how much p*rn is on the net with say 17 year olds? If there is lots, then perhaps most CP (as defined by Australian law) is freely available!

    I’ve watched documentaries which were broadcast in the UK (on channel 4) which would definitely by RC here. Yep, FTA TV in the UK is RC in Oz.

    Of course any production of real CP is a serious crime.

    But I’m sure that within a few km of my place a child will be abused tonight. For real. Yet instead of tackling the biggest problem (abuse committed by family or trusted friends of family) we go down hard on those who just look at pictures.

    Conroy has demonstrated many times that he has no understanding of technology, and that he is really using CP as a way to sneak through much greater censorship.

    Scary times.

  7. Stilgherrian

    I covered these subtleties of RC in some depth last year in the Patch Monday podcast, an episode called Refused Classification means what, exactly?

  8. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Some things I noted about the article:

    1 – You only need to look at Crikey to see that “anonymous screen names” are normal.

    2 – My first impression was that to join the site you had to produce CP. I only worked out the truth when I later read that if you produced CP then you became a Super VIP, so all that most members were doing was passing stuff along.

    I have no problem with the law coming down very heavy on those who make CP.

    But those poor sick people who are turned on by this, but would never dream of actually doing anything with a child, are clearly now treated much the same as the evil people actually abusing children.

    3 – Of course any internet filters would have been totally inefffective against this group,

    4 – but proper police investigation can infiltrate groups such as this and then track down its members.

  9. The_roth

    I think it’s very important that legislation be enacted by our elected officials in this matter so that everything is clear cut and above board.

    Policing by loop hole is hardly an intelligent thing to do and indeed in the future in less enlightened times (under an Abbott governement for instance) this back door could be used , with precedent, for all kinds of nefarious conservative activities.

    All it would take is a new McCarthy, we already have ready made cheer squad in the form of the right wing press.

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