news Australian ISPs iiNet, Internode and Primus have expressed an interest in implementing the limited Internet filtering scheme promulgated in Australia by the Australian Federal Police in cooperation with international policing agency Interpol, the AFP stated in documents revealed last week.
The initiative was proposed by the Internet Industry Association in late July this year, as a voluntary code of practice that would see ISPs block a list of a “worst of the worst” list of child pornography sites generated by Interpol and overseen by the AFP. It has been seen as a more moderate industry approach developed in reaction to the Federal Government’s much more comprehensive filter scheme.
Only three ISPs are known to have signed up to the scheme so far, which has largely moved from the IIA’s remit: Telstra, Optus and CyberOne. It now appears that the scheme is primarily overseen by the AFP directly, with the IIA unaware of which ISPs have signed up to the scheme. Vodafone has indicated it is preparing to implement the scheme in 2012.
However, in documents released last week by the AFP under Freedom of Information laws, the AFP stated that iiNet, Internode and Primus had also “expressed interest” in the scheme and were “preparing to use the list”. It also revealed that Internet gateway filter manufacturer ContentKeeper had already implemented the scheme. The document concerned was a list of talking points which had been prepared by AFP staff for AFP National Manager High Tech Crime Operations Neil Gaughan at a Senate Estimates session in October. During the session, however, Gaughan did not mention the interest of iiNet, Internode and Primus in the trial.
The mechanism for ISPs to implement the scheme is that ISPs speak to the AFP directly about it. Following their pre-consent, the AFP will then issue them with a notice under Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act which requires them to filter certain content from reaching their users. The AFP briefing document produced in October noted that iiNet — but not Internode or Primus — had in fact received a Secion 313 notice under the Telecommunications Act to request the ISP commence filtering.
iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby acknowledged the ISP had had conversations with the AFP over the filter, but hadn’t agreed to participate in the scheme, although he noted that the content being filtered was “really horrible stuff”. “It’s not for lack of wanting to stamp down on the distribution of illegal content,” he said.
“We think whatever process has used whether it’s a secion 313 notice or something else, that the ISPs should be not given discretion in whether to comply,” he said.
Internode chief executive Simon Hackett declined to comment on the matter, although Internode is believed to be in a similar situation to iiNet — it would implement the Interpol filter if required to by law, but not before. A Primus spokesperson issued a statement noting it did not comment on “law enforcement activities or processes”, and stated that the company would not be making any further comment on the matter.
iiNet has previously stated that it would comply with the law in respect to the Interpol filtering scheme. And in July, the company’s chief executive Michael Malone went further, sarcastically asking a commenter on broadband forum Whirlpool whether whether the Australian Federal Police should “do nothing about a foreign site that they know contains genuine child pornography” and whether “iiNet should refuse to comply with a lawful order issued by the AFP”.
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.
However, in July, Malone wrote that iiNet remained “a most vocal opponent of the government filter”.
“They were proposing a secret list of sites, covering “objectionable” material, or at least the murky refused classification,” Malone wrote. “The AFP is considering a small list of child porn, assembled by law enforcement bodies, reviewed by multiple countries. We need to ensure this is not confused with the government’s proposed filter. That is not dead yet either and needs to be opposed. An order from the AFP to blackhole a site containing internationally recognised child porn is not the same as the government filter.”
Internode chief executive Simon Hackett has previously stated that if Internode was required by law to comply with the scheme, it would. “The law hasn’t (yet) directed us to do something in this realm. So we haven’t yet done so,” he wrote on Whirlpool in July. “The point is that Internode obeys the law.”
“We hope that the government won’t repeat its previous activity in this realm, of framing ISPs who don’t act ahead of, and in the absence of the protection of, some new or existing law as being supporters of the ‘bad guys’. We are, of course, not ‘supporters of the bad guys’. But we’re also not disposed to take actions to impact our customers’ Internet services that are not (yet) the subject of any form of legal direction to do so.”
“We feel that if the government wishes to pass a law that has the effect of legally requiring us to do something, thats fine – we’ll do it. Until then, we will wait and watch with interest.”
When the limited Internet filtering scheme was first proposed back in 2010, Primus was listed by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy as supporting the scheme. However, in July this year it revealed it may have changed its mind about the filter.