Ministerial request:
Conroy wants Section 313 transparency options



blog We gave Senator Stephen Conroy a pretty hard knock early in his stint as Communications Minister due to his incessant and occasionally offensive defence of Labor’s mandatory Internet filtering plans. However, in the years since Labor put the filter broadly on ice, Conroy has more or less redeemed himself in the eyes of many in the technology industry, due primarily to his energy pushing the National Broadband Network project. This morning more good news for Conroy fans and those concerned about Government transparency in general has arrived. According to Computerworld (we recommend you click here for the full article), Conroy has asked his department what can be done to provide more transparency around the government use of Section 313 notices under the Telecommunications Act (you know, the ones which financial regulator ASIC recently used to unilaterally block a cluster of websites). Computerworld quotes Conroy:

“I think there’s a good argument that people are putting forward [that] there should be a greater transparency about what’s happening to ensure that mistakes, like ASIC have made in this example, don’t happen. I’ve asked my department to put some suggestions to me about how we can strengthen the transparency.”

While we applaud Conroy’s quick action in this regard and support pretty much all of the measures he has discussed in Computerworld’s article, we would also note that we suspect that the Government won’t go far enough in its actions. There are agencies in the Federal Government — such as ASIC, ASIO and the Defence Signals Directorate, not to mention the AFP — who politicians such as Conroy consider it very bad form to mess with. We believe it would be relatively easy for the Communications Minister to force many of the normal agencies (the ATO, Human Services etc) to engender transparency around the use of Section 313 notices to block websites. But when it comes to the law enforcement agencies, we suspect Conroy will find it very tough indeed to control their activities in this regard. And this is where the real danger in the shadowy use of these notices lies.

Image credit: Kim Davies, Creative Commons


  1. All s313 requests should be handled by the AFP for its interpol norti list, (and maybe ASIO can go by the AFP), and, for as for the rest, the ACMA should be the port of call for *all* other requests, since those two organisations have a clue, mostly :)

    As the Act is written now, some part time filling clerk in say, centerlink or the EPA, is an authorised officer.

    • The government makes the laws and it’s departments can allege someone’s broken them, but it takes a judge to decide if the law was actually broken by someone.

      That’s the worst part of this legislation, it’s basically a secret trial and conviction by the government that someone can’t contest. That is the bit that needs fixing, there is no legal oversight/appeal mechanism.

  2. Ohh and I specifically exclude the drongos in DSD , remember them, they are the whiz kids who ordered all .info domains be blocked from APH network. I would trust my neighbours 6yo kid to protect my network more than those clowns.

  3. The Legislation IS the problem, that section of the Act was designed specifically to bypass the Courts and the checks and balances they provide. Politicians feigning mock surprise when their Legislation works in exactly the manner they intended is an insult to the intelligence of all Australians.

    The only acceptable solution is to remove that section from the Communications Act, and require Court Orders for all further Censorship in Australia.

  4. This issue has been struggled with by many people within the Civil Liberties community, and many questions have been asked, not only of Conroy, but of the ISPs

    I think it would be a far better idea to add to the process of questioning, how was it possible that ASIC went to the ISPs apparently without any warrants as required under section 313 being utilised, and had them turn the damn thing off.

    Why is it that no questions were asked by the ISPs? Why is it that none of the ISPs appear to have asked to see the warrant under which the section 313 request was made? Why is it that it doesn’t appear that anybody at the ISPs took responsibility for what was done? Why is it that nobody at any of the ISPs reminded the morons asking for the section 313 orders that the effect of the order would be to close off 1300+ websites, including several political ones?

    ASIC has proven time and time again that it is almost totally incompetent, and it escapes me why people in business trust them with their reputations, or why the government trusts them to be able to manage our business environment?

    It isn’t as though they have taken people who were serious offenders and stuck them in jail. Rather, they appear to just go about their duties expending as much public money as is humanly possible in an effort not so much to prove their worth, but to encourage the government in allowing them to continue to breathe.

    At what point, do ASIC take responsibility for being not much more than trainee law students in their first year of pre-law at QUT, rather than our indomitable protector of all things corporate.

    • My understanding is that we don’t know what the ISP’s did, because they are not allowed to tell us.

      The order to block comes with a gag order as well. So even if the ISP’s did everything in their power to prevent it, they would never be able to tell us.

  5. He shouldn’t have to be doing this. It should already have been in place. It’s called process and procedure.
    And as for Transparency, I am of the opinion that all government activity needs to be transparent. (To a degree

    I Trust my government, I just don’t trust the people in it.

  6. I think all 313 proposals should be vetted by those champions of transparency, the TPP negotiators… no, wait!

  7. Thanks for the update Renai. It’s good that they are looking in to it, hopefully they uncharacteristically fix this first go…

    Has there been any word back from MT?

  8. Extra formal transparency sounds good, but there are more effective methods available.

    From personal experience, it is rather hard to accomplish very much at all while a public servant. Further, Section 313 might be too resistrictive for government employees in those cases where it really should be used.

    As for the cases when it has been used, but shouldn’t have been, there is an alternative to new legislation: embarassment. Risk-adversion is very strong among Government employees, and the potential for future embarassment will do more to constrain actual use of Section 313 than the proposed additional transparency.

    This blog has done a great service is helping the embarassment become more noticeable. Well done.

  9. As already discussed ad infinitum since 2008, there are no transparency measures good enough – censorship is censorship.

    Sorry, I stand corrected there is one, and only one, way to guarantee 100% transparency:

    Publish the blacklist.

    Either that, or no censorship at all – there is no grey area here.

Comments are closed.