Ding Dong The Wicked (Internet Filter) Witch Is Dead!

In a significant backdown by the Australian Government, the mandatory ISP-level internet filter previously proposed for Australia, has now been officially buried.

It will be replaced by the internationally recognised and accepted Interpol Access Blocking “worst of” blacklist service, and enforced on ISPs under Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, 1997.

While the mandatory filter was placed on the back-burner some time ago, it was still considered official government policy.

No more.

The wicked witch is dead.


The internet community in Australia and around the world – (lead by Electronic Frontiers Australia) – rallied heavily against the draconian filter plan, primarily championed by Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy.

The original proposal provided for no visibility. The contents of the blacklist would not be made public, and penalties could apply for publishing its contents. It also provided no simple appeal mechanism for the de-listing of material incorrectly listed on the blacklist.

This raised concerns that the filter would be able to be used for governmental purposes – (such as censoring of content unfavourable to the government) – and while Conroy insisted it would not be used in such a way, the existence of the system, by its very nature, provided for this possibility.

Given the lack of transparency, if it were used in such a way, we might never know – and this would go against the very nature of democracy.

The government did react to the pressure, and commenced formulating an appeals structure, but did not budge on the point of keeping the blacklist secret.

In recent days, it has been revealed that Russia has a similar secret blacklist.

Even before the announcement, there have been signs and speculation for quite some time that the government might have been planning to drop the filter completely, despite publicly reiterating that it was still part of their official policy platform.

In June 2011 it became apparent that the branch of the department dealing with the filter had been quietly shutdown:

“The former branch head responsible for mandatory, ISP-level filtering in the Department of Broadband (DBCDE) has seen his branch abolished and now leads another area, according to its most recent organisational chart.”

We also saw the National Classification Scheme Review, designed to look at what changes needed to be made to Australia’s clearly flawed media classification system on which the filter was to be based.

The whole process has been littered with stupid contradictory rulings, international ridicule, a litany of inaccuracies and misrepresentations, and has seen Australia labelled as an enemy of internet freedom by Reporters Without Borders, alongside countries such as Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam.

Special interest groups, including the ACL, have repeatedly called for the plan to be pushed forward – (including as recently as yesterday) – or for it to be made even more restrictive than first planned.

Personally, I have long felt that the Classification Review would be used as a convenient excuse to quietly shut the whole filtering policy down, writing in August 2010:

“The recent announcement that the filter would be delayed until a review of the classification system is completed provides the out for the government.”

“After the “review”, the government will have an excuse to change its position. They’ve saved some face BEFORE the election, and the policy will be – (they hope quietly) – taken outside and put out of its misery.”

“I feel Conroy and Labor are bluffing. They know its doomed, and what they’ve done [by initiating the review] is made sure that they can clean things up as quietly as possible later.”

It would seem that this apparently has come true – and long may it stay that way.

The introduction of the established Interpol mechanisms means that the list of regulated sites will not be beholden to a government, so that the filtering system cannot be secretly used for governmental purposes.

While we will still have a level of internet filtering, like other pundits, I feel that seceding to the Interpol list and therefore taking the control out of the hands of government, the necessary transparency exists, and instead of just blocking sites, via Interpol the people responsible for the sites will be able to be tracked down and prosecuted.

People will still be able to get around these filters if they so choose – which is the point the pro-filter campaigners don’t want to understand or accept. Conroy will also likely claim victory in that he got a filter into place.

Significantly though, it is not the filter he wanted, and we feared.

Most importantly of all, the government controlled mandatory internet filter is finally – and officially – dead.

As Conroy himself once famously said, you can’t regulate the internet.

So despite it all, it seems he was right about something after all.

UPDATE 09/11/2012 15:15: The full press release from the minister is now available online, confirming that the Classification Review recommended that the “Refused Classification” category be re-defined in such a way as to make the Interpol list the appropriate mechanism, exactly as predicted. The Classification Review became the escape from the policy Conroy was seeking.