The blocking of an IP address that was shared by around 1200 other websites has alerted anti-censorship campaigners such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation of the scale of secretive government censorship in Australia, where the government can block IP addresses of web sites with no judicial oversight, no explanation, and no need to notify anyone that the website has been blocked.
Although it seems that the blocking of their website was accidental, staff at the Melbourne Free University encountered great difficulty in extracting the reason for the block from their ISP. When they did eventually receive a reply, they were told their website had been blocked by the Australian government, and that the ISP was legally unable to ‘provide the details regarding who has blocked the IP or why’.
It would seem that following the dropping of plans to introduce a draconian two-tier internet filtering system in November last year, the government has turned to legislation that is 16 years old to further its aims.
This proposed internet filter was claimed to be necessary to ‘provide greater protection to children from online pornography and violent websites’. The actual legislation however proposed two filters: one, which could be opted out of, for filtering content not suitable for children, but the other covering content considered to be illegal or ‘unwanted,’ and which could not be opted out of.
The new tack taken by the government has been to use clause 313 of the 1997 Telecommunications Act, (effectively a legal loophole in a piece of legislation that is now hopelessly out of date), to allow the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to submit lists of websites it believes involved in financial scams. These were then blocked with no judicial oversight, which sets a deeply worrying precedent.
Politicians in the Opposition parties were angered when the banning of 1200 innocent web sites came to light in April, but as yet, although the accidentally blocked websites have been restored, nothing further has been done to change the situation. As Senator Scott Ludlam of the Australian Greens Party said,
“It’s extraordinarily difficult to find who has issued these notices and on behalf of whom, for what categories of content, or what you do if you find yourself on a block list. We’ve got a very serious problem and it’s not at all clear whether the government knows what it’s actually doing.”