The office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has acknowledged the existence of a protected online forum used to discuss controversial issues about the internet filter, but has appeared to reject forum suggestions from departmental officials that the Government could make it an offence to promote methods of circumventing the filter.
The site is being hosted internally by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE). In screenshots sighted by Delimiter today, ISPs such as Pacific Internet and Webshield — which will be required to implement the scheme if it goes ahead — discuss the filter with un-named departmental officials.
In the forum postings, officials from Conroy’s Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy wrote they were exploring whether the planned filter legislation needed to make the specifici promotion of means of circumventing the technology — by ISPs, for example — an offence.
In response to a question about whether it could confirm the option was being expored, Conroy’s office this afternoon issued a statement saying the Government “will not be creating any specific offences in relation to circumvention”.
Online rights advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Australia — which revealed the existence of the online forum within DBCDE today — immediately slammed its creation as a “secret club”, but Conroy’s office said it was one aspect of consultations with ISPs on the implementation of the ISP filter.
“All Australian ISPs were invited to participate,” the statement said.
The Minister’s office also responded to a variety of other contentious issues raised by the Department in the online forum.
On the issue of high-traffic sites hosting refused classification content not being listed on the planned blacklist of banned sites, Conroy’s statement said the Minister had stated publicly that this would be the case if the sites agreed to a process of either removing RC-rated content or blocking it from Australian users when identified through the public complaints process.
On the issue of blocking video games that are refused classification, Conroy’s office said the Government’s approach to filtering overseas-hosted online games would be developed by drawing on the consultation process around the potential R18+ classification for games.
On the issue of timing of the legislation, Conroy’s office said a public consultation on improved transparency measures for the filter had been held, and DBCDE was now working with other Government agencies to consider the submissions and examine whether the ideas could be used.
Once these and other consultation processes are complete, “the legislation will be introduced into Parliament,” Conroy’s office said.
The Minister’s full statement is as follows:
As previously stated the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy has been consulting with ISPs on the implementation of the ISP filtering component of the Government’s cyber-safety policy. These consultations have involved the use of an online forum to discuss various issues relating to implementation of ISP filtering. All Australian ISPs were invited to participate.
The ISP filtering legislation will be introduced into Parliament as soon as the consultations with industry including on the issue of high usage sites has been completed. The Minister has said publicly that URLs of high traffic sites will not be included on the RC content list if they agree to a process of either removing RC rated content or blocking it from Australian users when identified through the public complaints process.
The Department noted on the online forum that the Minister for Home Affairs released a consultation paper on whether there should be an R18+ category for computer games in Australia. The Government’s approach to filtering overseas-hosted online games will be developed drawing on this consultation process.
The Department also noted that Government’s policy is to introduce legislative amendments to require ISPs to accurately filter specific URLs of overseas hosted internet material which are listed on a Refused Classification (RC) Content list. The policy does not extend beyond the blocking of URLs on the RC Content list.
The legislation will detail the Government’s ISP filtering policy of requiring ISPs to filter a list of Refused Classification URLs. There are a number of filtering technologies available and ISPs will have the flexibility to choose the technology that best meets their network requirements.
The Government has acknowledged that a technically competent user could circumvent filtering. As the Minister has previously said it will not be an offence to circumvent filtering. The Government will not be creating any specific offences in relation to circumvention.
The policy aims to stop inadvertent access to RC content.
The Government is committed to the Cyber Safety policy, which includes ISP-level filtering of Refused Classification content.
A public consultation on improved transparency measures has been held and the Department is now working with other Government agencies to consider the submissions and examine whether the ideas can be used to enhance the proposed accountability and transparency measures.
Once these consultation processes are complete the legislation will be introduced into Parliament.
Image credit: Office of Stephen Conroy