More ISPs sign up to AFP’s Interpol filter


news The Australian Federal Police has revealed that two more ISPs have signed up to implement the limited Internet filtering scheme that has been developed by the AFP and industry group the Internet Industry Association, although their identities at this stage are unclear.

So far only three Australian ISPs — Telstra, Optus and a smaller ISP, CyberOne — are known to have implemented the filtering scheme, which is voluntary for ISPs but compulsory for their customers. The filter, which is being seen as a more moderate industry approach developed in reaction to the Federal Government’s much more comprehensive filter scheme, is seeing the ISPs block a “worst of the worst” list of child pornography sites generated by international police agency Interpol.

A number of other ISPs, such as Internode and TPG, have taken a strong stand against the project, stating they will only implement the scheme if the law requires them to do so. iiNet has also cautiously stated that it will comply with the law but has stopped short of backing the scheme.

However, in a response published last week (PDF) to questions posed to it by Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam in a Senate Estimates committee hearing in October, the AFP revealed that two more ISPs had signed up to support the scheme. To participate in the scheme, ISPs must confirm their interest with the AFP, which will then issue them with a request under section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to filter certain material.

“AFP has issued five section 313 requests to Australian Internet service providers,” the AFP’s statement last week read. “As participation by the ISPs is voluntary, a section 313 request is made by the AFP when the ISP has indicated their participation and have/are readying their technical infrastructure to implement blocking of the list.”

Two other local ISPs who have been publicly associated with the Internet filtering initiative are ItXtreme and Webshield, both of whom provide filtered Internet services to their customers. Webshield is believed to act as a wholesale provider of services to ItXtreme. It is believed that ItXtreme is not one of the other ISPs listed, and that it has not implemented the Interpol filter scheme.

Calls to Webshield tonight were not immediately returned. IIA chairman Bruce Linn declined to comment on the issue tonight when contacted by telephone, while the Australian Federal Police did not immediate return calls or emails seeking further information about the identities of the other ISPs.

The merits and problems of this kind of Internet filtering scheme have been debated endlessly over the past few years, so I won’t go into them here. However, I will note that what continues to concern me about the Interpol filter scheme being promulgated by the IIA and the AFP, along with ISPs, is the lack of transparency around the initiative in total.

Australians would have no idea that there are now five ISPs signed up to the scheme if Greens Senator Scott Ludlam — who has a strong interest in the area of Internet freedom — had not subjected the AFP to prolonged questioning on the matter in Senate Estimates earlier this year. And it’s taken months for the AFP’s response to come back on the issue; as it is taking months for the AFP to respond to a simple Freedom of Information request in the same area.

There is no official way for information about this scheme to be regularly disclosed, apart from through the Senate Estimates process, and as a journalist, whenever I have sought information about the scheme directly from the principals concerned, I have found it hard to get anything substantial back; with the exception of when I spoke about it to former IIA CEO Peter Coroneos earlier this year about the issue. Coroneos was more than happy to provide as much information about it as possible. His successors may not be.

Telstra, Optus, the AFP and now, it appears, the IIA, have been very unwilling to provide any comment or information about the scheme in general. And this is a very dangerous thing, when we are talking about a scheme which the telcos don’t tend to inform their users about, has no civilian oversight, operates on an untested legal framework, and has no open, transparent and timely appeals process (see my opinion piece in July: Five disturbing things about the Interpol filter).

Now we find out that there are two more Australian ISPs who are actively filtering their customers’ Internet connections. But we don’t know who, and this fact was only disclosed in a PDF document buried in the bowels of the website of the Federal Parliament; a PDF document which very few people would be actively looking for. I myself only found this document because I was tipped off about it by a helpful member of the community.

We can all agree that stopping the production and dissemination of child pornography is a worthy goal for society. But our mechanism for doing so needs to be more transparent than this; that much we should also all be able to agree on.

Update: Delimiter has confirmed that neither ItXtreme or Webshield has signed up to the Interpol filter.

Image credit: ralaenin, royalty free


  1. So in order for this to work an ISP is requesting the AFP to request them to comlply with an order under S313 of the Telecomunications Act.

    So the Government can say that it’s voluntary and the ISP can say that they’re just complying with a request from the AFP.

    Slow Clap.

  2. I think the most telling point about this scheme is the reticence of participants to admit that they are participants – if it actually did what was claimed without side effects and other problems wouldn’t they be shouting its praises from the rooftops?

    • Did you miss the related article titled “Telstra’s Interpol filter goes live” which includes a statement from Telstra saying they are doing it and what the scheme involves?

      Credit where it’s due I think it’s been pretty transparent. Being a telstra customer i’ve not hit the warning page once and I doubt 99% of the customers have.

  3. From their site:

    ‘Webshield was founded in 2004 by a brother and sister team whose time spent in youth work had demonstrated firsthand the impact that the Internet was having on all ages.

    Webshield’s expertise in content filtering technology is recognised at an industry and government level. Webshield provides wholesale filtering technology to a growing number of Internet Service Providers. Webshield is an active member of the Government’s Consultative Working Group on Cyber Safety. Webshield was also involved in the recent content filtering trials and played a constructive role in formulating and improving test procedures’.

    Many believe that Webshield is in bed with Conroy after conning the ACL and others into believing that their dud was a silver bullet for censorship fetishists. Their ‘Interpol list’ joinup together with their miniscule clone is hardly a surprise or an event of any significance in the big scheme of things, with the exception of further cementing the theory that Conroy will use this straw man version to sell to the rubes before the next election to avoid further antagonising the larger block of more savvy potential voters.

  4. “We can all agree that stopping the production and dissemination of child pornography is a worthy goal for society. But our mechanism for doing so needs to be more transparent than this; that much we should also all be able to agree on.”

    If you remove the word “dissemination” Renai I agree 100%.

    There is strong evidence that the reducing or stopping the dissemination of child pornography in actual fact may cause an increases in the rate of child sexual abuse. I should also be note this also applies to pornography and sexual abuse. One article on this issue can be found at and I would draw your attention in particular to the highlighted text near the end and the subsequent remarks.

    Could I suggest that the government’s efforts should be directed to stopping the perpetrators of the sexual abuse and providing support and counseling for the abused and not to hiding the problem from the public. by using an internet filter.

    • Of course they want to hide the problem, that is the whole point of these filters. Putting the problem out of sight puts it out of mind, therefore making people feel falsely secure (in short: security theatre) while also being most likely cheaper than actually dealing with the problem directly.

      IMO; given the current governments standing procedure of finding the cheapest way to implement a solution to a problem, – and hang the long term effects beyond the next election, – such actions sadly are not surprising in the least.

  5. The simple fact is the filter would only work as it is planned if all ISPs signed up. That they had to make it voluntary meant it was immediately ineffective. The government shouldn’t have the right to filter the internet for any reason.

    It’s yet another example of dealing with the symptoms and not the cause. While child abuse is abhorrent it is also treated as a special crime in society. Its an easy vote winner and an excuse to do a lot of things.

    For politicians its a way to scare people and inflict control on the population through fear, in jail its an excuse for criminals to commit assault.

    Don’t get me wrong if someone did something to my children I would want to hurt them as well but it’s not an excuse to restrict the majority or cover for better parenting and education.

  6. So, this filter, It’s a DNS filter system.

    Not that good for blocking darknets, such as TOR, FREENET and other encrypted VPN services.

    Most people who want to do bad stuffs – those into blowing up things for religious purposes, kiddy-porn sharers, credit card thieves, hackers, and the like, use VPN’s or encrypted Onion-Routing to avoid detection with products such as being proposed.

    So what is the purpose of this technology? Is it going to be used to block torrenting? That’s another vehicle for the naughty people as detailed above. What about USENET? They will filter that too?

    For every technological barrier the government places in the way of those who wish to partake in such activities, there will be a number of technological counter-measures to bypass this. So why bother to enforce such technology on the ISP’s? Politics. It’s advocacy-based politics from companies that peddle these products that lead us into situations such as this.

    It will force the terrorists to use different methods to encrypt/conceal their activities. it will make it HARDER to stop them. It will gain you NOTHING. It will piss-off those who bit-torrent their TV shows though :)

  7. A filter is effectively the coroner waiting at the bottom of the cliff, never mind the ambulance. The non-repairable damage has already occurred.

    This stems from a flawed notion that to combat child abuse (which child porn is but one facet) you have to stop people viewing it by specific methods; most filter schemes ironically don’t seem to address the methods used, that flash up in the news periodically.

    It does absolutely nothing to assist the AFP in tracking down the creation of this pretty nasty stuff, or key distributors responsible. It, for want of a better phrase, “fixes through obfuscation”. It doesn’t uphold any laws. It just “hides” the problem.

    It’s like “hiding” spousal abuse imagery as a great way to solve it. I don’t think so, Jim.

    And I’m sure anyone spruking their form of filter technology has no vested interest, either.

    A better use of the funds that would have gone to this “coroner’s van” is to boost funding for AFP and local constabulary efforts. This, however, sets off another discussion about rights and privacy. Hell, adding a few extra resources and tools to the fight, would be a huge benefit by comparison.

    There is no surprise that various religious lobbies whom are pushing for this, also represent part of the problem, in that clergy are sometimes involved. That tends to skew the message.

    The thing is, this is an “uncomfortable” discussion, so the answer is to hide it? That’s not a great way to combat the trade. There needs to be informed debate, legislation and action. Not a knee-jerk half-assed filter.

  8. Please people, the filter has nothing to do with child porn! That’s just an excuse to get the foot in the door.

    What’s really in their sights are the thousands of websites which host politically inconvenient or embarrassing material – anything which doesn’t toe the official line. For example the truth about Kennedy, 9/11, recent wars – you name it.

    At present such websites are the ONLY source of truth about many issues of widespread interest. A few years ago, when all we had to rely upon was the mass media, it was easy to brand dissenters as conspiracy theorists and crackpots. Now with huge numbers of websites presenting proofs that we have often been lied to by the mass media, more and more people are waking up to reality.

    So the ruling clique plans to shut down all such websites, or at least make them inaccessible to all but the most diligent. And with only a handful of people bothering to search earnestly enough for the truth, they will be much easier to track down for arrest as ‘potentially dangerous citizens’, regardless of whether they actually are dangerous or not.

    Thought police? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

    • yeah – what really did happen to kennedy? I knew these issues were linked somehow ….

    • That slope would have to be *incredibly* slippery for Interpol’s “worst of the worst” list to somehow morph into a list of political content. Do you even know what the Interpol list is about? It’s not even got anything to do with Australian law (which is incredibly more broad); it’s the stuff that nobody would stand up for anywhere.

      Also, even if it did, I don’t think anybody is really going to bother censoring your crackpot conspiracy theories about 9/11. Sorry.

      • “That slope would have to be *incredibly* slippery for Interpol’s “worst of the worst” list to somehow morph into a list of political content.”

        There is an example of “scope creep” where an existing filter system in use in the UK by at least one major ISP, has had at least one news binary index site added to combat ‘online piracy’ by burying it behind a block list.

        It is extremely naive to presume a filter will not see amendments. The reasons may initially be innocent enough, but the temptation (and bureaucratic expediency) it offers will all but assure creep will occur.

        We may never end up like China, as some might like to argue, but the risks of an expedient ‘under the rug’ filter, should not be ignored.

        It is highly, highly likely that AFACT and other Rights Holder goon squads would immediately seek to use any such filter to further their goals of market subjugation.

        Never mind what Jim “moral police” Wallace (ACL) and other borderline fanatics would lobby to get added. Or anyone else with an axe to grind.

        In this context it doesn’t really matter who provides the initial list, be it the AFP, ASIO, Classification Board, etc. As soon as you start using that methodology to ‘police’ use, you immediately make it the de-facto Internet leash of choice.

  9. I’m trying to work out how you came to the conclusion (later withdrawn) that Webshield had started using the Interpol filter?

      • Probably because of their self proclaimed and fairly easily disproved expertise in making mum and dads web a clean, fresh and cuddly puppy inhabited meadow. Thay seemed to easily take in Conroy, the ACL and a few dozen more filterfetishists…

Comments are closed.