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Oz Tests Web Censorship Schemes

February 11, 2010

It has recently come to my attention through a series of news stories that the Australian government has become an enemy of freedom by incrementally blocking access to websites it has deemed inappropriate. It seems that it started out, as every corrupt system does, standing for a moral cause: this time under the guise of restricting child pornography and upholding “standards” previously imposed  on the broadcasting industry.

In 2000 the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) was created as an amalgamation of previous governmental bodies. It has since slid the slippery slope towards abusing the powers it wields. In 2005, the ACMA issued a notice to Sydney-based hosting company Bulletproof Networks stating that a Forum they were hosting “may contain links to other websites that may contain ‘prohibited content’ or ‘potentially prohibited content'”. It was prohibition of an anti-abortion website with photos of aborted fetuses. The penalty for linking to this website: $11,000 a day.

The website was on the Australian website blacklist. In March 2009 that list appeared on Wikileaks. In a stroke of irony, or  the law of unintended consequences, the list, as TheAge.com reports, “constitutes a condensed encyclopedia of depravity and potentially very dangerous material,” according to University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt. In essence the government itself has inadvertently provided a condensed list of the worst of the worst of the web.

In an earlier report Landfeldt and associates warned “list leakage” was one of the main issues associated with maintaining a secret blacklist of prohibited sites.

He said secret censorship systems were “invariably corrupted”, pointing to the Thailand censorship list, which was originally billed as a mechanism to prevent child pornography but contained more than 1200 sites classified as criticising the royal family.

And in Australia…

But about half of the sites on the list are not related to child porn and include a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.

The blacklist is maintained by ACMA and provided to makers of internet filtering software that parents can opt to install on their PCs.

The Age tempers all this censorship fear by saying it is voluntary for parents seeking to protect their children but then reports “However, if the Government proceeds with its mandatory internet filtering scheme, sites on the blacklist will be blocked for all Australians. The Government has flagged plans to expand the blacklist to 10,000 sites or more.” Meanwhile, acccording to The Age, “ACMA said Australians caught distributing the list or accessing child pornography sites on the list could face criminal charges and up to 10 years in prison.” Which, to be clear, means that the list the government compiled is itself equal in moral depravity to child pornography.

And now, since Wikileaks has that list, Wikileaks is added to the list.

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, dug up the blacklist after ACMA added several Wikileaks pages to the list following the site’s publication of the Danish blacklist.

He said

“The Australian democracy must not be permitted to sleep with this loaded gun. This week saw Australia joining China and the United Arab Emirates as the only countries censoring Wikileaks.”

And, as The Age points out, it will only get worse when the list is distributed to each Internet Service Provider in Australia to try and enforce it because it will only more afford more opportunities for it to be leaked.

Finally

YouTube’s rules already forbid certain videos that would be classified RC, such as sex, violence, bestiality and child pornography. But the RC classification extends further to more controversial content such as information on euthanasia, material about safer drug use and material on how to commit more minor crimes such as painting graffiti.

….As if these actions could determine that, in Australia, the Revolution will not be online. They almost guarantee that they will be online, because Internet mirrors will always provide end-roads around the banned content.

Australian hackers recently defaced government websites in a bid to gain attention for this issue. AFP reports a quote attriuted to “anti-Scientology group Anonymous

“The Australian government will learn that one does not mess with our porn,” Anonymous said in an email sent to AFP.

“No one messes with our access to perfectly legal (or illegal) content for any reason,” it said.

Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that applying ISP filters to high-traffic sites such as YouTube would slow down the internet, “so we’re currently in discussions with Google about … how we can work this through”.

Interestingly Google is planning an ultra-highspeed Internet grid (which could perhaps be fast enough to make the delay while the servers hop through the NSA not as noticeable?)

Last week the Washington Post reported that Google has sought support from the NSA to defend its systems, yet simultaneously leveraging the “Chinese hack of Googles systems” to force China to accept non-censored search results. We will take a look at this, and other cybersecurity news, tomorrow on Axiom Today.

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