DBCDE forum reveals filter legislation not drafted


Electronic Frontiers Australia today revealed what it said was evidence that Stephen Conroy’s department was hosting a protected online forum to discuss controversial issues about the Government’s internet filter initiative, including the lack of a complete draft of the planned legislation as of several weeks ago and the possibility of making it an offence to promote methods of circumventing the filter.

Delimiter has sighted apparent screenshots from the forum possessed by the EFA. The digital rights advocacy group believes the site is being hosted internally by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE). In the screenshots, 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.

The office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has been contacted with a list of questions to respond to the information contained in the forum.

In December, Communications Minister Conroy had stated the filter legislation would hit Parliament by March, a time frame echoed by Labor Senator Kate Lundy in early February.

But in a posting on the forum which appeared to be dated April 13, the Department wrote that at that stage “there is no complete draft of the legislation”, although the drafting process had commenced.

“One of the purposes of consulting with ISPs through this forum is to seek feedback on issues that will be covered in the legislation, which the Department can then take into account in the drafting process,” it added.

No decision had yet been taken on whether the Government would publicly release an exposure draft of the filter legislation, as it has recently done with similar broadband legislation, the department wrote.

In essence, DBCDE added, the legislation will require ISPs to filter URLs on the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Refused Classification (RC) blacklist, without specifying exactly how they did it — “consistent with usual drafting practice and the desire to keep legislation as technologically neutral as possible”.

Pro-choice euthanasia group Exit International and others such as IT reseller ProxyMate.net have already started promoting ways to get around the filter legislation, and Conroy’s office has publicly stated it would not be an offence to bypass the filter. But DBCDE warned ISPs against promoting the practice in its posting.

“We would be concerned if an ISP actively promoted sites or instructions for the specific purpose of circumventing the filter,” it wrote. “The Department is exploring whether the legislation needs to make this deliberate and specific promotion of circumvention an offence or whether it is already adequately addressed through existing offences in legislation.”

“Rather than actually driving this policy with available evidence as it assures us it does, the government seems to have established a private echo chamber out of reach of public scrutiny and criticism,” said EFA vice chair Geordie Guy.

“The only thing that is more dismaying, is that canvassing of opinion within this secret club seems to be even less successful than it is publicly, and points out where the minister has misdirected Australians on the government’s intentions as a bonus prize.”

High-traffic sites and games
The forum postings also revealed the Department’s ideas about other controversial aspects of the internet filtering initiative.

For example, although Conroy has stated that trials have shown that the impact of the filter on internet speeds would be 70-times less than the blink of an eye, the Department noted it was currently exploring options for managing high-traffic sites in a way that minimised the risk of customers experiencing a noticeable speed impact.

“This includes options that would see [Refused Classification] content hosted on high traffic sites being managed without it having to be included in the RC Content List, and thus filtered by ISPs,” it wrote. “These discussions are ongoing, so at this stage the Department is unable to provide further detail on exactly how this process might work.”

The Department noted “as a minimum”, the RC Content List — or blacklist — would contain a list of URLs with unencrypted content. But it noted it was aware that there might be some encrypted HTTPS pages — “for example, log in pages” — which could be “seen” by ISPs, and that it was interested in comments on the practicality of including such pages on the blacklist if they had RC content.

The filter legislation will also allow RC video games to be included on the blacklist at some point, depending on whether the Federal and state governments decide to introduce an R18+ category for games or not. The Department plans to start by including the websites of RC games on the blacklist so that they cannot be accessed.

“The technicalities of filtering non-HTTP game traffic will be a consideration in any decision regarding filtering online games,” wrote the Department. “One consideration could be the potential effectiveness of selectively blocking RC game traffic using IP address and port numbers, and of remote updates to that information through Border Gateway Protocol.”

The Department also clarified questions about what level of RC content will be blocked on individual sites, responding to a Pacific Internet example using The Age newspaper by saying that it was “an accurate illustration of the situation”.

The filter will block a URL and any sub-link of that URL on the blacklist. For example, if the list contained:


Then the filter would also match and block:


But if the list contained:


Then it would not also block:


Image credits: Paul Brunskill, royalty free and Delimiter


    • Personally it doesn’t seem to me that DBCDE or Conroy is doing much outright lying, Michael, but there is certainly a fair degree of obscuring the whole truth out there.

      • I think that the government has been publicly saying that only exact URLs will be blacklisted since the inception of this policy (and the previous versions of it) is a *very* significant lie.

        URL prefix filtering will cause massive overblocking, no questions. Most significant websites make significant use of dynamically generated content.

        Look at the “front page” of http://www.delimiter.com.au, should the featured article (which is this one atm) be RC and added to the blocklist all content on this website, and future content, would end up blocked as well.

        I am astounded that they are stupid enough to consider URL prefix filtering, and that is saying something as I didn’t think the political masterminds behind this policy were very bright to begin with.

        • Who said they were considering URL prefix filtering? All they were doing was explaining what impact those kind of entries would have on the blacklist, hypothetically, which is common sense really.

          • Are you for real Michael? The fact that if http://www.theage.com.au was added to the blacklist (hypothetically) and that it would block http://www.theage.com.au/%5Banything%5D is NOT what has been said publicly.

            The blacklist has been consistently (one of the few consistent aspects of the policy) described as a list of URLs, this behaviour is not consistent with the description at all. It is such a significant deviation from that behaviour that it questions the integrity and/or competence of the Minister IMHO.

            It does appear this was demonstrated in a non-hypothetical example during the trial, there were media reports that at least one trial participant found all content on redtube.com blocked. I know for a fact that the URL “redtube.com” was added to the blacklist prior to the filtering trials.

            The media article is http://www.arnnet.com.au/article/312354/isps_give_clean_feed_filter_technical_green-light/ I believe but the site is down for me at the moment so I can’t verify it.

          • It’s not what has been said publicly, because it really goes without saying – which is exactly what I said in my last post. There’s certainly been no public statements to the contrary either.

            I have never, ever heard of a blacklist system operating in any way other than this.

            If you want to block 150 URLs all in the same directory, then you blacklist the directory. To force exact matches and therefore create 150 different entries on a blacklist is just so technically dumb that even Conroy’s department wouldn’t come up with it.

          • Would just like to point out that the immediately above “Michael” is not the same “Michael” (me) – who opened this thread.

        • So it sounds like they might be using regular expressions to block the URL’s. This will have further implications if they are

          Eg theage.com.au is blocked

          this would also mean that the hypothetical url
          would also be blocked because it contains the blocked string.

          I would like to think that they have thought of this but given the fact that there are even talks about this topic makes me wonder

          • I can’t imagine any regexp solution being performant enough for this (which isn’t to say that someone wouldn’t be stupid enough to try it). Hopefully it’s just a simple string comparison:


  1. So many things about this hurt.

    One of many is the admission that the filter can be negated by simply sticking a bogus ssl cert in front of the web server. I would have assumed anyone serious about providing truly undesirable content would be doing this already.

    The sheer pointlessness of this filter boggles the mind.

    • “I would have assumed anyone serious about providing truly undesirable content would be doing this already.”

      Very true!

      We have heard time and time again that most of the refused classification content is hidden away in private forums. I guess the irony is that the Government also hides some of its secrets away in private forums ;)

  2. “70-times less than the blink of an eye”

    It’s not individual transaction times, it’s the combined aggregate where we’ll notice this. Either Conroy is being deliberately duplicitous or is displaying a technological ignorance, both of which show how inappropriate he is to be making decisions in his current role.

    Star Chambers. Repeated lies. The screeching rhetoric of the anti-pederast. The chilling effect on Australia’s intellectual development. Are we supposed to still be proud of this country? Is it the ignorance we’re meant to feel pride over?

    • “It’s not individual transaction times, it’s the combined aggregate where we’ll notice this. Either Conroy is being deliberately duplicitous or is displaying a technological ignorance, both of which show how inappropriate he is to be making decisions in his current role.”

      True. And 70 times less than the blink of an eye could mean absolutely anything when you’re talking about a telco the size of Telstra. The revelation that the Dept is investigating speed problems on high traffic sites only increases the validity of the questions about speed.

  3. Renai tweets “If circumventing the filter is not an offence, why should promoting circumvention be an offence?”

    Actually it’s oddly consistent. The purpose of the filter is largely not to prevent action (which it stands no chance of doing), but an attempt to prevent the dissemination of information. Controlling information is the key here and thus there is a certain symmetry to this web of stupidity.

  4. The one point I keep labouring on is not that the filter will inconvenience anyone, we know that it will, but at what point have I signed anything that states that my freedom of will allows the government to dictate where and why I go to certain sites on the internet, and if it doesn’t match a predefined list of ok sites – who will be defining these sites, by the way, Family First?? I will be blocked. I don’t remember signing anything of the sort. I did not waive my right to use the internet for personal endeavours, or anything that is allowable under the current australian laws. The content filter is irrelevant. The speed at which we receive content should be key – but, yet again, as they did with the SMB IT Advocate, the current government misread the message and focused on the negatives…

    • At what point did you imagine you automatically had these rights in the first place?

  5. I do not particularly mind the DBCDE running a closed forum to discuss filtering with the Internet industry. However given the politics of the situation I would have liked to have seen then apply the common sense to announce they were doing so and that they were inviting all ISPs.

    The lack of transparency and the excruciatingly poor communications out of the DBCDE and Senator Conroy’s office makes them look like they are deliberately hiding things.

    The application of more communications common sense by the DBCDE and the Senator’s advisors would have defused this, and a number of the other issues Conroy has faced.

    • Like Conroy’s ministerial site removing ‘isp censorship’ from his cloud menu?

      Or bullying Internode’s Mark Newton?

      Or the continuous obfuscation and just bald face lying/ignorance

      The proposal to see if its technically feasible to block games just shows they will attempt to block anything that’s technically possible. If its technically feasible to block p2p they will. If its technically feasible to block high-traffic sites they will. If its technically feasible to block This policy has scope-creep written all over it.

  6. Why did I ever vote for Rudd at the last election? Oh thats right, the sooper dooper fast broadband he promised that looks to be a pipedream (literally).

    Why are ministers in charge of things like information technology and the internet not required to have any techical knowledge what so ever to do their job. The only thing that should be manditorily introduced is the requirement for government members in charge of such important things to be suitably qualified so as to stop wasting Australians time and money fudging about trying to work out what should be done through a whole lot of trial an error. Stephen Conroy should be made to do a CCNA at very least to be able to hold his possition. Then hopefully knowing what he has currently proposed wont work will save Australia a great deal of time and money and not leave us behind the rest of the world. Of course you cant teach common sense and decency so there will always be that problem as I am a firm believer in freedom of speach and information. Australians should not accept to be treated like children by politicians who let their own political and religious beliefs influence the way the countries internet and information systems work. I am not a christian and do not want to live under the Australian Christian movments somewhat tisted idealogy. I think Conroy does not fully understand his position and is fast customising the countries policies to suit himself. Either that or hes getting some undisclosed “gifts” from certain interest groups.

  7. Despite this article coming across as some kind of “exposé”, these forum posts tell us virtually nothing we didn’t already know (unless you have EFA’s selective hearing).

    Actually, as much as I’d like to see the filter proposal gone for good, the truth is that these posts seem to paint a picture far less dire than many people would like to believe. Basically, the statements coming out of Conroy’s office more or less say the same thing. They’re not “hiding anything” as many allege; if the information is vague, it’s because they haven’t decided on a definite answer yet either!

    Of course, that in itself is troubling — but is anyone surprised? When you have an idea this controversial, it’s going to get reworked over and over again until they come up with something halfway palatable. The government can’t just click their fingers and make it happen. That’s politics.

  8. Its the election.

    The filter will be back.

    Rudd seems to think if he keeps a low profile, he can win the election. With the Mad Monk, that may be a smart move.

    • Visiting the first link above triggered a trojan warning in avast! and the second link is viagra ad spam.

      It’s a shame our government didn’t spend half as much time protecting us from the far, far more prevalent scammers (like this douchebag, Appofomia) out there than they do the paedo-boogyman.

      Reported to abuse@dyndns.com for TOS violations.

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