IIA blacklist just “security theatre”, says EFA


Digital rights lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia has panned the efficacy of the Internet Industry Association’s planned industry-wide child pornography filter, describing it as “security theatre” that wouldn’t actually make much difference to the ability of police to enforce the law.

The scheme — first outlined in detail yesterday — is expected to see most of Australia’s major ISPs voluntarily block a list of sites containing child pornography compiled by international policing agency Interpol, with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police. The legal instrument for the scheme to go ahead is section 313 of Australia’s Telecommunications Act, which allows law enforcement to make reasonable requests for assistance from ISPs.

It is being seen as the telecommunications sector’s more limited, voluntary alternative to the Federal Government’s much wider mandatory filtering initiative.

In a statement issued today, Electronic Frontiers Foundation spokesperson and board member Stephen Collins said he completely understood why the various organisations behind the move — the IIA, Telstra, Optus and so on — were pushing forward with the plan, as it offered them “the appearance of responsibility”, the capability to block known offensive material and so on. In addition, he noted the IIA’s comments that the filter wouldn’t be able to protect against all exploitation of children.

However, Collins said the proposal didn’t acknowledge the fact that “the overwhelming majority” of child exploitation material — illegal in Australia and most other countries — wasn’t actually traded on the public Internet or over the World Wide Web — but through other online mechanisms such as email, peer to peer technologies or through virtual private networks.

“Appropriate cooperation between IIA and law enforcement authorities is a good thing in the main, especially as it applies to bringing child pornographers and other transnational criminals involved in major crime such as human and drug trafficking to justice,” said Collins.

“However, EFA would rather see the government, the IIA and the AFP publicly acknowledge that these crimes rarely take place over anything resembling the public Internet and that blocking sites represents less than the proverbial drop in the ocean.”

The activist said it would be better to accept that fact and accept that fighting crimes of this nature was better done by well-equipped, well-funded law enforcement authorities trained for the task. “The Australian Federal Police units responsible for this work already do an excellent job and could arguably do better with improved funding, training, assets and personnel,” he said.

“While the the IIA moves have the community’s best interests at heart, it’s disingenuous to call this “practical steps to help make a positive difference”. Because they won’t make any difference of substance. As Bruce Schneier is fond of saying, it’s “security theatre”.

The term “security theatre” was coined by Schneier, a US-based security consultant and writer, who describes it as a security approach intended to provide the feeling of improved security — despite a lack of actual measures that will impact security outcomes in practice.

Image credit: Kitt Walker, Creative Commons


  1. I have been struggling to find a way to describe the IIA proposal that shows it for the waste of time and resources it is, Thanks Stephen, Security Theatre is just the term I was searching for.

    The best I can make out the IIA proposal is to… block access to sites that may no longer exist, from the absolute majority of people that do not want to and will never visit them and do nothing to stop the few that do if they really exist.

    Sounds like a great use of everyone’s time and money.

    Meanwhile in other news, the various law enforcement agency child exploitation units continue to catch and prosecute real people causing real harm with the limited resources they have. All additional resources provided the LEAs help them to do this even better.

    This proposal makes me angry, the do gooders will move onto their next cause whilst congratulating themselves on the great job they have done protecting society.

    Meanwhile nothing will have changed, kids will still be harmed in the same numbers and the same people will still be congratulating themselves on their job well done.

    • Hi Cameron,

      I agree 100% – however there is 1 (and only 1) positive to this Interpol blacklist:

      It removes the support of organizations including ChildWise and Bravehearts for Conroy’s RC filter.

      Which is an achievement not to be sniffed at.

      I have had direct correspondence with Carol Ronken and Hetty Johnson of Bravehearts, as well as Bernadette of ChildWise; I had their word that none of them support blocking anything except for Child Abuse material.

      So this really filters out all the remaining single nutcase supporter of the government filter – the ACL.

      Everyone with half a brain can see the government’s money is actually better spent on stopping child trafficking, slavery, abuse and sexualization. Like in Cambodia where men sell their underage sisters on the main streets, not at night, but during the day out in the open in broad daylight.

      I know where I’d rather see my tax dollars spent; on educating women.


  2. Given the IIA are proposing DNS poisoning that is so easy to bypass it could be considered voluntary why don’t they just suggest those that want use Open DNS?

    Easy to setup, can block porn or offensive sites based on the user’s selected categories.

  3. Cameron,
    The problem with that proposal is that it still only affects those who want to have the blockage. The key wish of the proponents of the all the filtering schemes is that the filter must be applied to everyone. So your filter will be unacceptable. And, Richard, it will still be unacceptable to the “Pro-child” organisations because it is not compulsory for everyone (just the major ISPs).

  4. As Stephen suggests, this is not much more than a token – (expensive) – effort to give the appearance of taking some kind of stance.

    The problem is this “stance” will not protect or save a single child from abuse, through the production of this atrocious material, and it will not stop those who want it – (sickos that they are) – from getting a hold of it.

    It won’t make a skerrick of a difference – just as the mandatory filter would make no difference.

    It would be a far better use of resources to direct the funding for these efforts to tracking down the dirtbags who make and distribute this stuff, rather than wasting it on an expensive plan that won’t even achieve its stated goals.

    Laws/plans like this might – (or might not) – “protect” the innocent, but do nothing to punish the guilty.

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