Australia Considering Review of Website Blacklist

Tod Hunter
CANBERRA, Australia — The federal government is considering having a panel of eminent Australians or a parliamentary committee review its secret blacklist of banned websites to try to increase "transparency" in the proposed Internet censorship plan.

The controversial Internet filtering plan, which has been under consideration in various forms for years, is based on blocking websites on a prepared "blacklist" at the ISP level.

Communications Minister Sen. Stephen Conroy told a Senate hearing that the government was "considering options for greater transparency and accountability in respect of the blacklist," including a regular review of the list by a panel of eminent persons or parliamentary committee or a review of complaints by the classification board.

The blacklist of sites, which has existed since 2000, contains a reported 977 websites and is maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Sites are added to the list based on complaints from the public, groups and law enforcement agencies. Authority officials have reported a 90 percent increase in complaints about websites in the last 18 months, and attributed this to greater public awareness of the list.

The list has been given to the makers of Internet filters, but publication of the list is a criminal offense. This has led to objections that websites could be listed without their knowledge and without any opportunity to challenge their inclusion.

In March, a whistleblower website published a list of websites it claimed was the blacklist. The list included child porn, bestiality, rape and extreme violence sites — but also online poker sites and the website of a dentist.

The filtering proposal has attracted criticism on free speech grounds. Critics also say it will be ineffective and will slow Internet speeds.

Some 30,000 Internet users have been invited to participate in trials of the filtering system through nine Internet service providers. Conroy said the results of the trials, which are expected to end in July, would be considered along with possible transparency measures before the Government makes a final decision on implementation of the filtering policy. Conroy has promised to release a report on the results of the trials.