Australia's Controversial Internet Blacklist and Filter Proposal Revealed

March 23, 2009 04:15 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
A list containing Web sites to be banned by Australian authorities has been leaked, prompting concerns over threats to online freedom.

Australian Blacklist Revealed

According to the Associated Press, the "whistle-blower organization" is responsible for revealing the existence of Australian authorities' "secret list of Web sites" that will be banned. The list includes sites "promoting child pornography and sexual violence," but a dental office Web site is on the list as well. 

Although filtering software currently allows people the option of banning the sites from their home computers, Australia's Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has proposed "mandating that Australian Internet service providers implement the list, which would make Australia one of the strictest Internet regulators among democratic countries," reports the AP. Australian authorities have refused to make the list public, and Conroy's proposal has led to protests and cries of censorship.'s professed aim is to develop "an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking and public analysis." Wikileaks has received support from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, discovered and leaked the blacklist after "several Wikileaks pages" were added to it.

"The Australian democracy must not be permitted to sleep with this loaded gun," Assange told the SMH. Currently, only Australia, China and the United Arab Emirates have censored Wikileaks.

Forbes reports that Wikileaks has also "unveiled the blacklists of Thailand, Denmark and Norway," but now that Wikileaks has been added to Australia's blacklist, anyone in Australia who links to the site is subject to fines up to nearly $7,500 per day. In response, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has "placed Australia on its 'watch list.'"

Opposition communications spokesman Nick Minchin told the SMH that Wikileaks had acted irresponsibly, but the information would probably have surfaced anyway. He emphasized that parents and adults cannot depend on blacklists to keep children safe online.

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Background: Cyber freedom in Australia

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) provides background information on Internet censorship in Australia, including a September 2003 senate amendment to the Freedom of Information Act aimed at "protecting children from online pornography." The amendment required that Australia's communications ministry "provide a list of censored websites every six months," but cyber-freedom groups have been denied access, which RWB finds "disturbing."

Opinion & Analysis: List is a "wake-up call"

Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc. (EFA), which represents "users concerned with on-line rights and freedoms," has spoken out against the blacklist. According to an article published on the EFA Web site, the list should serve as a "wake-up call for Australians concerned about secret censorship." EFA Vice-Chair Colin Jacobs said the leak "was bound to happen," and has put the Australian government in an "unenviable" position. The EFA unsuccessfully attempted to use Freedom of Information laws to obtain the blacklist.

Related Topic: Thailand's Internet censorship

In January, the Thai government blocked 2,300 Web sites, raising concerns about free speech. Thai authorities claimed the sites were insulting to King Bhumibol Adulyadej and sought a court order to shut down 400 other sites. They also planned to create a $1.3 million, 24-hour facility to monitor the Internet for violations, according to Information and Communications Technology Minister Ranongrak Suwanchawee.

Reference: ACMA, Wikileaks and Internet safety


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