‘Gross abuse of power’:
IPA columnist condemns ASIC filtering


Undercover agents

blog It seems that the move by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to unilaterally decide to start blocking websites it deems to have illegal material has outraged basically everyone with any interest in the Internet in Australia (we’ll have more on that in coming days). Perhaps one of the most outraged is Chris Berg, a research fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs, a long-time advocate for free speech, and, dare we say it, a thorn in the side of powerful government authorities exceeding their mandate (shocking, we know). Berg writes today on The ABC’s The Drum site:

“The Australian Securities and Investments Commission is completely out of control … Censoring the internet is a gross abuse of its status as an independent regulator. Perhaps we could forgive an abuse of power if it was a one-time thing. But it’s part of a pattern.”

This move by ASIC is the kind of over-the-top government action which tends to unite many different sides of politics. Of course the normal digital rights groups will come out of the woodwork to slam any kind of government intervention in the Internet — the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Greens, the Pirate Party and so on. But what we’re seeing here is different. As with the data retention initiative before it, the use of Sectipn 313 notices under the Telecommunications Act to filter web sites without transparency or oversight is something that has got under the collar of many different players in the political arena.

You know an issue has mass market energy when both the IPA and the Greens are campaigning along the same lines — and we are sure that the Coalition too is paying a great deal of attention to this one behind the scenes as well. As Berg wrote, no side of politics — Labor or Liberal — will sit comfortably with a regulator like ASIC which has clearly exceeded its mandate in this kind of area.


  1. Thanks for Keeping this in the news Renai.

    You’ve got a typo in your article: “Sectipn”

  2. All i can say is that it was going to happen. The AFP opened the door. Naturally other government agencies would follow suit.

    The problem as others have pointed out, is that these agencies apparently lack the technical understanding of it, as was shown when over 1200 sites got blocked because a single IP was black listed.

    It just showed that agencies like ASIC apparently have zero idea of NamedVirtualHosts in Apache and other similar capabilities in servers like nginx.

    Really, what needs to happen now is much tighter control put onto it, if Labor doesn’t do something about it, it’ll haunt them right up to the September election.

    • Pretty much every mature web-server technology has the capability to host multiple websites on the same IP address. This is not something that – for instance – a windows-based webhost might not know about.

      Anyone that has ever setup a web server knows about this “feature” of web hosting.

      (I say this as primarily an asp.net dev working with IIS too much)

      • Yep but the decision to block these sites would not have come from a “tech” person.

        Someone would have just rubber stamped the idea without actually any sort of process being built to properly handle it.

        That coupled with the gagging of the ISP’s and the lack of a redirect, is the basic problem with this process.

        I don’t believe that ASIC was intentionally being dodgy. They simply didn’t understand what they were doing, and there was no process in place to support what they were doing.

        • Its been played out something like this.

          Government has said “Go block Mr Bigbad’s driveway, he lives at 123 Sesame St.”

          Contractor arrives at 123 Sesame St, finds it is a block of flats, but does the job they’re contracted to do – they block the driveway.

          Meanwhile, everyone else living at 123 Sesame St is wondering why the hell they cant get access to their driveway…

          What should have happened was to send the contractor to either block his mailbox, or to block 123 Sesame St, flat 45.


          Rookie mistake, easy to make. Not too hard to learn from, and frankly, while a terrible thing to happen at any time, probably best for it to happen early in the process then 2 years from now after the process is “proven” to work…

  3. I’m sure that now the IPA has given it the tick, Tony will be condemning the move soon as well.

    • IPA are small government classical liberals (conservative in an economic sense). Tony Abbott is a big government cultural conservative. They sometime team up against socialists, but otherwise they have little in common.

      It really is worth putting the effort into reading a bit and understanding people’s positions, because the media are not going to do that work for you.

      • To quote the wikipedia entry:
        “Political links [edit]

        The Institute has close ideological and political affinities with the Liberal Party in Australia. John Roskam, the IPA’s Executive Director, worked on the Liberal Party’s 2001 election campaign. He has also run for Liberal Party preselection. Former Prime Minister John Howard (Liberal Party) delivered the 60th C D Kemp lecture to the Institute in 2004, titled Iraq: The Importance of Seeing it Through.”

        The IPA gets far too much oxygen of publicity through the Murdoch press and the ABC (editorial policy isn’t driven by the journalists so their own leanings have become immaterial, ignore what the News Limited have been spruiking yet again this week – the ABCs senior management is staffed by conservatives since Howard’s reign).

        Why do you keep publishing this evidence-free guff Renai? They’re past masters at cherry picking, see their stances on passive smoking and climate change.


  4. Values drive our behaviours and actions.

    “We will be accountable by:
    * Delivering great results
    * Finding better ways to do things
    * Showing personal drive and resilience, even when it’s challenging.”

    “We will be professional by:
    * Always being honest and fair in our dealings with others
    * Valuing and treating everyone with respect
    * Working in the best interests of ASIC.”

    “We will demonstrate teamwork by:
    * Building good, working relationships across ASIC
    * Always considering the views of colleagues, stakeholders and customers
    * Letting people know when they’ve done a good job.”


    Just saying.

  5. ASIC only care about money, they where probably trying to stop fraudsters. ASIC are probably clueless about anything related to filters or freedom of speech.

    The issue is with the people/department that actually accepted their request and went through with it.

    • I agree that where you have a technologically illiterate department requesting a technological measure to achieve an policy objective (protecting the public from Internet related financial fraud), the technical people responsible for implementing those measures should be appraising the people/department issuing the mandate prior to implementation. I receive requests almost daily from company directors and managers to implement technological measures to achieve broad business objectives the simply aren’t realistically feasible. Little time is ever wasted on such things because I am able to advise them of the technical feasibility (or rather, lack of) and they can then make an informed decision. If they wish to forge ahead regardless, at least I have done everything I can professionally to advise them of technical feasibility and costs (and documented it).

      Now I realise ISPs aren’t in the business of professional consulting to ASIC or any other regulator, but at what point in this process did every technical person involved decide to keep their mouth shut and not even question the directive? That doesn’t sound like technical personnel to me… It sounds like the ISPs have some answering to do here too, because there will be managers who were advised by technical staff that this was a Very Dumb Idea who simply ignored the advice. Or they didn’t and had a dialogue with ASIC who forged ahead regardless, in which case those ISPs have a story to tell (and quite regardless of any gag order, transparency here is in the vast interest of the public, while further secrecy can only do more harm).
      In summary, while I believe the original order demonstrated technical ineptitude, that can be understood to some extent because ASIC staff aren’t expected to have such technical expertise. But were they later informed and ignored the advice? Or are the ISPs involved partially responsible because they didn’t warn ASIC, being the people with the requisite technical understanding?

      • The problem is they weren’t be asked for the technical feasibility of it, they were being given a lawful directive.

        The real problem is ASIC shouldn’t have that power, it should be a judge that decides if they are guilty and what the punishment should be. ASIC should issue a warning that they are taking “XYZ” to court over whatever it is and get a court approved remedy, but they shouldn’t be the prosecution, judge and jury.

        That’s the biggest problem with “section 313”, there’s no oversight.

  6. What sort of person even reads articles from the IPA? Why even dignify their existence?

    • They do have a few good ideas sometimes, like ditching the baby “bonus” and stopping the publicly funded subsidy for car manufacturing.

      But on the whole, I find many of their other ideas too far out on the right wing

    • “What sort of person even reads articles from the IPA?”

      I do, and I agree with much of what they write. When it comes to Chris Berg, I would say I agree with pretty much everything he writes.

      • So you agree with their position on climate change which is completely contrary to the evidence and scientific interpretation of that evidence?

        And passive smoking?

        • “When it comes to Chris Berg, I would say I agree with pretty much everything he writes.”

          The likes of Chris Berg have never denied climate change, no sane person would. Of course everyone agrees that climate change is real and is human caused.

          What they have always said, is that a top-down government-enforce plan like a carbon tax or an ETS is not going to solve it. And if you look at how well the carbon tax has gone in this country, or how well the ETS has gone in Europe, or you look at the world’s ever increasing carbon emissions, they seem to be right.

      • “When it comes to Chris Berg, I would say I agree with pretty much everything he writes.”


        Thank fuck he exists, and kudos to the IPA for paying him to write and publish his opinions. Without him, the left would monopolise all intelligent discourse in this country.

        Thanks for the heads up Renai.

  7. It’s interesting, and a bit sad, that when a government department is using secret censorship to trample on our right to free speech, all some people can do is whinge and bitch about the fact that one of the principal opponents of the censorship is a body they don’t personally like.

    We might think it is much more important to be united against secret censorship than to trot out the old tired political cliches yet again.

  8. I want the names of the people fired for this incompetence (obviously Conjob included)!

    Conroy stated many, many times over and over and over that there would be a ‘process’ and ‘independent oversight’ of that process.

    What an absolute joke mate.

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