Errors in Australia's Filtering Regime

Based partially on a top-secret blacklist of websites, Australia’s program of Internet filtration is still in full force. Government censorship recently resurfaced in the media when Australia’s Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, admitted that certain images were added to the blacklist in error and blamed the Russian mob for the addition of a dentist’s site, according to reports in The Age.

Conroy’s admission in late March of such errors casts doubt on the Government’s ability to filter the Internet without the inadvertent censorship of appropriate and legitimate websites. Conroy blamed the inclusion of an innocuous link on a “technical error” inside the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which compiles the top-secret blacklist.

The presence of legitimate websites on this list was only revealed in March. According to The Age, examples of these websites included euthanasia sites, abortion sites, regular porn sites, and a site containing harmless Bill Henson photographs, among others.

In a widely publicized interview, Conroy continued his claim that the proposed censorship regime was sound because it targeted only “refused classification” content, although in practicality, many of the sites included in the classification were entirely legal to view.

Furthermore, Conroy admitted that the filtering program would be ineffective on peer-to-peer networks, where the majority of child pornography is traded.

Spokesman for an online users’ lobby, Colin Jacobs, contends that “this doesn’t address questions of how the secret list is administered, how the Government hopes to classify millions or billions of web pages without making any mistakes, or why an expensive national filter has to be applied at the ISP level in the first place.”