news Three of Australia’s major ISPs — TPG, Dodo and Primus — have not responded to repeated requests to disclose whether they are planning to implement the limited Internet filtering scheme which is being promulgated by the Australian Federal Police in cooperation with international policing agency Interpol.
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.
However, in a response several weeks ago published 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.
In the wake of the revelation, Vodafone confirmed that it was planning to implement the filter in 2012, but had not yet been issued with a section 313 notice, leaving the identities of the remaining two ISPs unclear.
iiNet and Internode confirmed last week that they hadn’t received a request from the AFP to implement the filter, and Exetel is believed to remain opposed to the filtering scheme, which the company’s chief executive John Linton has previously shunned as “pointless”. This is consistent with previous statements which the ISPs have made on the matter.
However, when contacted by Delimiter last week, TPG declined to comment on the matter, while spokespeople from Dodo and Primus had not responded to repeated requests for comment on the issue over a period of a week, leaving their attitude towards the Interpol filter unclear.
Several smaller specialised ISPs — Webshield and ItXtreme — who had previously been associated with the filtering scheme have confirmed they have not implemented the Interpol filter and are not immediately planning to — already offering more comprehensive filtering services to their customers upon demand.
When Telstra and Optus implemented the Interpol filter, the two telcos did not immediately broadcast the fact to their customers, although both have acknowledged the filtering scheme is in place in customer information published since.
In addition, it is believed that the AFP will only issue a Section 313 notice to ISPs when the ISPs have confirmed that they have put the technology in place to send their filters live. This appears to suggest that two other ISPs — aside from Telstra, Optus and CyberOne — are currently filtering their customers’ broadband connections for the list of sites promulgated by Interpol without those customers’ knowledge, and without the knowledge of the general public.
Initially the filter scheme was being pushed by the Internet Industry Association, which represents ISPs and other companies with an interest in the Internet. However, last week, the company acknowledged it did not know which Australian ISPs had signed up to implement the filtering scheme — with the initiative passing out of its remit and into the direct control of the AFP.
The AFP has declined to reveal which ISPs had signed up to implement the scheme, stating that as it was voluntary for ISPs, it was up to the ISPs themselves to announce their participation in the trial. However, participation in the trial is not voluntary for customers of ISPs, whose Internet connections will be filtered without their knowledge.
Some civil libertarians have raised the issue of scope creep and whether the section 313 process could be used by the AFP to request that other forms of content illegal in Australia — such as detailed instruction in crime or even information about euthanasia — to also be blacklisted by the AFP. It has been speculated that this could lead to a defacto scheme similar to the Federal Government’s more comprehensive filter scheme, which does not currently have the parliamentary support to become law — although it remains Labor policy.