The following is part of an email from Wayne Swan's electorate officer Finn McCarthy-Adams in response to concerns raised about the proposed internet filtering regime. Its authorship is unclear. It is provided without comment except to hope that the release of the forthcoming report on the trials will be thorough and complete:
A part of the Government’s plan is to examine the introduction of ISP-level filtering for RC material. Content defined under the Scheme as RC material includes child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act.
The Government is also considering additional ISP content filtering options for those families who wish to have such a service.
The Government’s policy is being developed through an informed and considered approach, including industry consultation and close examination of overseas models to assess their suitability for Australia.
Filtering technologies have been adopted on a voluntary basis by ISPs in a number of countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Finland, predominantly to filter child pornography. In these countries, ISP filtering has not affected internet performance to a noticeable level.
Laboratory trial and live pilot
ACMA has completed a laboratory trial of a sample of the available ISP filtering technologies. The trial looked specifically at the effect of a range of filter products on network performance, effectiveness in identifying and blocking illegal content, scope to filter non-web traffic and the ability to customise the filter to the requirements of different end‑users. The laboratory trial indicated that ISP filtering products have developed in their performance and effectiveness since they were last assessed in 2005.
The Government is now undertaking a live pilot, which will provide valuable information on the effectiveness and efficiency of filters installed in an actual ISP network. A report of findings from the pilot is scheduled to be available mid 2009.
The Government is committed to working closely with the internet industry to address the concerns of network degradation, over and under blocking, circumvention and costs. These concerns will be carefully considered during the pilot and will further inform the Government’s cyber-safety policy.
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (the Department) has prepared material on a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about ISP filtering. This list is available on the Department’s website at http://www.dbcde.gov.au/communications_for_consumers/funding_programs__and__support/cybersafety_plan
The existing ACMA blacklist is a list of internet web pages which are defined as ‘prohibited’ under Australian legislation. The list has been in place since 2000 and currently contains around 1100 URLs.
The ACMA blacklist is developed by complaints from the public about online content to ACMA. ACMA does not arbitrarily assess and classify content. Online content is assessed in accordance with the Scheme. The Scheme was established by the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995. Content, which is the subject of a complaint, is assessed by ACMA and/or referred to the National Classification Board for classification.
The ACMA complaints process has been established by the Australian Parliament through the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and has been in place since 2000. If content is found to be prohibited and is hosted in Australia (i.e. located on a computer or server in Australia), ACMA will direct the content provider to remove or prevent access to the content.
If content is found to be prohibited and is hosted overseas, ACMA cannot have the material taken down but it must add the material to its blacklist. This blacklist is then provided to 14 PC filter vendors who use the list in their filtering products.
ACMA officers and Classification Board members applying the Scheme are highly trained and apply criteria set out in the Scheme’s legislative framework. Further, decisions made by the Classification Board can be reviewed by the Classification Review Board.
The scope of the definition of prohibited content in legislation cannot be expanded without changes to legislation being passed by Parliament, and the Government does not intend doing this.
Leaking of the ACMA blacklist
Purported versions of the ACMA blacklist of URLs have been placed on a website. The leaking and publication of a list, which includes RC URLs, is irresponsible and undermines efforts to improve cyber-safety and create a safe online environment for children.
It should be noted that the original version of the leaked list apparently contains 2395 URLs where the ACMA blacklist consisted of around 1100 URLs at the relevant time. ACMA advises that while there are some common URLs to those on the ACMA blacklist, there are URLs on the original leaked list that have never been the subject of a complaint or ACMA investigation, and have never been included on the ACMA blacklist.
ACMA is continuing to investigate this matter. I note that it is an offence under the Commonwealth Criminal Code to use the internet to make available child pornography or child abuse material.