‘No apologies’: ASIC pledges to block more sites



news The chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last week said the regulator would not “apologise” for using an obscure section of the Telecommunications Act to block websites suspected of fraud, and stated that the organisation would continue to use the controversial power to block more sites.

Several weeks ago the Federal Government confirmed ASIC, the financial regulator, had started requiring Australian Internet service providers to block websites suspected of providing fraudulent financial opportunities, in a move which appeared to also open the door for other government agencies to unilaterally block sites they deemed questionable in their own portfolios.

The move is based on the use of Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, which allows government agencies to ask ISPs for reasonable assistance in upholding the law, a mechanism which is also being used for the Government’s limited Interpol-based filter to block child abuse material, under the auspices of the Australian Federal Police.

However, the law is not usually used to block websites, and there appears to be no public oversight of the process which ASIC is using, no appeals mechanism, and no transparency to the public or interaction with the formal justice system. ASIC’s action came to light after the regulator in April blocked several sites suspected of providing fraudulent investment information, but also resulted in the inadvertent blockage of some 1,200 other innocent sites. It has since emerged that ASIC has blocked “numerous” sites over the past nine months.

The news was immediately greeted with alarm by a number of political groups and digital rights lobby organisations, which expressed concern that ASIC’s move could herald the covert return of the Federal Government’s previous mandatory Internet filtering scheme, which the Government abandoned in November last year. Commentators immediately called upon the Government to reveal how widespread the blocking practice was, and the news spurred journalists and activists to file Freedom of Information requests in an effort to ascertain the full extent of the situation.

Last week it was revealed that a third agency in the Attorney-General’s portfolio had also used the power to block sites on the basis of “national security” concerns. However, the Government has refused to disclose the identity of the agency or the sites blocked.

In a major speech given last week to the Stockbrokers Association of Australia annual conference, ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft appeared to take a defiant approach to criticism of his agency’s actions. The full speech is available online in PDF format.

“The development of the internet has enabled cyber crime, and in particular, investment scams, to move online and to become a lot more sophisticated in their deception,” said Medcraft. “ASIC devotes a lot of time and resources to combating boiler room and investment scams. The criminal syndicates that operate these scams are sophisticated and often use offshore sites to target Australians. They are persistent and have fleeced many people of their money – hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 15 years, often with devastating consequences.”

“Cybercrime is something ASIC takes very seriously and we will keep fighting against these fraud sites. One tool we have is the ability to disrupt and block the websites of these criminal operators. Our results show that quick action can have a major impact on the amount of money being lost.”

“We don’t apologise for blocking the sites of criminal fraudsters, and we will continue to take action to prevent scammers ripping off Australians. We have seen first-hand the devastating consequences these scams have on Australian investors and their families. ASIC is all about ensuring investors can be confident and informed and this means cracking down on fraud when we see it.”

The executive noted that it had recently been reported that a number of other sites had been accidentally blocked in the process of the regulator blocking a suspected fraud site. In this case, Medcraft said, ASIC was “unaware that the IP address” used by the fraud site “was also shared by other websites”. “This was the first time we became aware we had blocked other sites,” he added. “We are reviewing our procedures to ensure this does not happen again, as obviously we are not targeting legitimate sites.”

The news comes as groups such as the Greens have continued to turn up the heat on the Labor Federal Government over the web site blocking issue. Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam said last week that there was “virtually no oversight or transparency in how 313  notices are issued, which agencies and individuals can request one, or under what circumstances they’re permitted”.

“We now know that in addition to the ASIC and Australian Federal Police, a third agency has used the section 313 power to block websites, but the Government will not reveal which,” Ludlam said in a statement. “The Department of Communications was also unable to identify how many state, territory and Commonwealth agencies are legally empowered to demand ISPs block websites at will.”

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has requested his department provide him with options to increase the transparency of the Section 313 process, and a number of Federal Government departments and agencies recently attended a meeting hosted by Conroy’s department on the issue.

It is good that Medcraft is at least aware enough of the website blocking issue to be able to address it in public; this isn’t always the case with the heads of Federal Government departments, agencies and regulators, who often don’t quite understand the technology they are speaking about.

However, the executive’s words contain no comfort for those concerned about the lack of transparency regarding ASIC’s moves. Medcraft was completely unapologetic in his speech, demonstrating an autocratic approach that will, no doubt, enrage civil libertarians demanding the Government apply a basic modicum of transparency and oversight of the use of Section 313 notices. I think the executive needs to acknowledge that there is a wider issue here beyond merely the blocking of websites with suspected fraudulent information. Right now, ASIC is using the equivalent of an atom bomb to squash an ant through the use of this power; and that’s never a good thing. As we’ve seen, when atom bombs are detonated, there is always collateral damage.

Image credit: Still from Gladiator


  1. Maybe http://www.hostdime.com/(the webhost with its IP blocked) can kick up a stink with their local senator about how this is affecting their business, because we know the Aus gov will do what the USA says.
    Maybe the lobby groups can arrange some legal funding for Melbourne Free University to pursue this somehow through the courts.

  2. Malcolm and the Libs have no comment to make on this? Strange, they are usually so vocal about pretty well everything else, guess they must agree with Labor on this one…

  3. I hope that someone who has been illegally blocked, like the Melbourne Free University, sues the back side of the Government Department who has blocked their site.

    It is time the Government and the Australian Public Service had their heads kicked and were reminded that they are there to serve the Australian people not ride rough shod over them.

    We have a well entrenched belief in this country that people are innocent until proven guilty and that means a trip to court to prove your case. No Government Department has the right to be “Judge, Jury & Executioner” but this is what they seem to be trying to get away with using Sec 313 of the Telecommunications Act to block sites that they decide are nasty without any oversight, right of appeal or transparency.

    My opinion, but I must say IANAL, is that the blocking of a site without a warrant is a contravention of Sec 7 of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. Sec 313 & 314 of the Telecommunications Act was only ever intended to ensure that Telcos co-operated when needed with Law Enforcement Authorities in executing a warrant and were not financially burdened by the co-operation. Sec 313 and Sec 314 appear to give Telcos the right to refuse to co-operate in certain circumstances which adds to my contention that Sec313 was never designed as an avenue for Law Enforcement Agencies to use it as an authority to take action against someone. There was never any apparent intention for sec 313 to be used by Law Enforcement Agencies to interfere with communication between people at any stage. Nor does the wording in that division of the Act IMHO support using it to intervene in communications.

    I am sorry Renai but it seems to me that there is a lack of discipline with the Public Service Agencies that are related to the AG Department and they have forgotten what their role is and who their masters are. Regrettably some serious head kicking may be needed to bring them back into line.

  4. I’m curious, if legitimate Australian businesses are hosted on the same IP, that would suggest the fraud site is hosted in the same place (i.e. hopefully Australia?)

    How hard can it then be to do your job and actually shut down the site/operator rather than block an IP.

    It’s rather rich shared IP hosting wouldn’t have come under consideration from this lot.

    • Never underestimate the government workers. They can be absolutely brilliant, and they can be bloody hopeless. You tend to get both, the difference is the brilliant workers end up going elsewhere because they can, whilst the hopeless ones hang around because of the perception that its hard to fire someone in government jobs.

      This situation as usual just needs proper process and procedure. Someone suing a govt org would certainly result in that.

  5. I look forward to using ASIC to block my competitors websites. Automated tools are so handy.



  6. Transparency my arse. Being able to see the bastards as they take away your right to Freedom Of Speech is no help at all. If they took away your Right to Vote would it make it alright if they were ¨Transparent¨ about who those in power decided would be Dictator? If they took away your Right to a Fair Trial would it make it alright if they were ¨Transparent¨ about who the Judge took bribes from?

    To Hell with ¨Transparency¨ oppose all Censorship.

  7. I agree with Disgruntled Loner. Conroy’s Filter has been deceitfully snuck in through the back door. Truth is, we don’t know whats being blocked in total. The point is why did we accept a so called Interpol Filter that wouldn’t solve or prevent crime. I thought back then and I still think that they have used that to basically get the infrastructure in place, and now they get sprung blocking legitimate websites. I won’t be happy with any form of ISP based web censorship. Australia is well down the slippery slope.

  8. “cybercrime”? thank goodness ASIC is looking out for us plebs “on the line”. :)

  9. ASIC has had wide ranging powers for some 20 plus years now it has more. If all was done according to legal or natural justice principles the system would function a lot better.
    Unfortunately they do discriminate as does the legal system filtering company owners by unfair rules and using trickery to fine and prevent small businesses from trading.
    They can take Directors to court without notice and the court system does not check on the information the ASIC Employees issue. I had been taken to court without being made aware it was taking place. No notice to attend court to defend my self or the Pty Ltd Company I had at the time. It was alleged in Court that I had been informed.
    Some 7 years later I found out that I had an outstanding fine for failing to pay annual return?
    I only discovered this after I had been fined for a minor traffic offence and after contacting the State Revenue Service I was advised I had an outstanding fine going back over seven years. I had to back trace and ask a lot of questions to find out what had happened and the SDRO sent me a notice to pay? I thought it was a Tax matter and after talking to the tax department they said NO your tax returns for the business were all in order. I finally found out that my accountant had not done the right thing and I was taken to court by ASIC for failing to pay the yearly company registration.
    The five year period within which I could challenge had run out. Despite that fact that I was not aware and never had a chance to legally defend my self. I recall talking to my accountant and notifying ASIC that I had an injury and was employed by another company that was offering a sub contract job but the offer was a ruse and was one sided. On the legal advice I had I decided not to go ahead with the agreement.
    That is what seems to have sparked the ASIC issue.
    The justice system is blind and we can be taken to court without knowledge and fined. Them the matter somehow got buried and lost for over seven years and mysteriously resurfaced.
    My local area court was a lot more helpful then the court where the matter was heard, the court where the matter was heard was very hush about the entire thing and would only tell me that it was too late to contest as the period had expired and that I would have to do my own Investigation to find out what had occurred. The SRCS only stated that I had to pay the fine. I no longer had the option to fight this.
    I had been in court attendance in various capacities and what I had seen was very wrong on some occasions. In one case I had been asked to testify in a case I was viewing as a person was representing his family members in a case and he was not legally trained. The magistrate along with the court Security Officer stitched the poor guy up as he had lost track of all the papers he had copied and used as evidence.
    It is far from a perfect system, star chamber events take place from what I had experienced.
    Lets examine some of the reasons we had referendums for. At one stage we were asked to vote on the Constitutional right to have a jury of twelve, if we wanted a three tier Government? 6 states voted against this yet the Bob Hawke Government still went and made the LOCAL Government Act 1992/3?
    Are local councils legal? They have ABN Numbers so that would make them companies. Recent news advises that the Federal Government wants to spend $100 million on another referendum and change 17 words in the Australian Constitution for funding the Councils??? Ambiguous wording leaving a door open for other changes?
    Can the federal Government make laws that were voted against by the people in a constitutional vote, in a democratic country?
    Why has the Labor Government and some of the Liberals pushed for a Republic. But they wanted a Parliament elected president and not a people elected president?
    When the people voted a Prime Minister in how did the Party replace the Prime Minister? Did they have a peoples election or did they just choose a hand picked leader. Why did Kevin Rudd state that faceless factions control the Labor party? Has any one heard of the Fabian Society? Labor Party has a lot of members including Julia Gillard, Paul Keating whom had signed the United Nations Agenda 21 agreement from recollection in 1982? Oddly Kevin Rudd’s name was not listed when I checked the membership for the Australian Fabians is he a member now?
    Why does it cost so much to represent your self in a high court and defend your Constitutional rights? Could it be that it was designed to prevent ordinary working class from being able to legally challenge laws that are NOT legal according to the Constitution?
    Why do Governments try to deceive and trick the citizens they are supposed to be representing?
    How many have read and have a fair understanding about their Constitutional rights and Common Law rights. Why is there such a push to try and change the constitution and remove individuals rights?
    We do not need the protection the Constitution was designed to give us according to the honest and trustworthy politicians that never lie. We can trust them to act on our behalf for our good and to look after our welfare and our families?
    What is the difference in between the ISMS? ( Capitalism. Socialism. Communism. Fascism)?
    The lines some times get blurred.
    I am not anti establishment, however, I do not like what I see and the direction we are being told to follow or where we are being led.
    Opinions and comments like these get individuals in trouble and may get websites taken down. Yet if you follow the leads and research I am sure you can find facts to support my comments.

  10. Just another irrelevant question.
    Why have we the Australian People never had or never got a BILL OF RIGHTS.
    Because we have a United Nations human rights principles or are there other reasons. I seem to recall that some time ago we were told it was not necessary and it would be a waste of time and money to have an referendum vote on this issue?
    Yet we have the Government stating that we will have a referendum for financing the local councils by the Federal or State Government.
    Important issues are decided upon and spending Tax Payers Money on certain issues takes precedence over other not so important and irrelevant issues, from a certain point of view, that may not be the public point of view but we have elected M P’s that are there to decide and make those decisions on our behalf.
    Some of us just need to wake up and realise that the State Origin game is not the most important event we should be concerned about.
    However, these side events are designed to keep people from following up on the real issues.
    How easily we are distracted, and often I heard that Politics and Religion are not to be discussed in this house. Almost like we were brain washed into side stepping the real educational and healthy topics that concern us and our families.
    How convenient.

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