Australian Filtering Goes Live, "Trivial" to Bypass

Last week, our friends over at Herdict reported on the proposed ISP-level censorship in Australia. The plan, released by Telstra and Optus (two major ISPs), aims to protect Australian citizens by blocking child pornography and child exploitation sites pulled from an Interpol blacklist. The list of sites to be censored was not released, although a government spokesperson claimed about 500 to 1000 sites would be included in the initial filter.

Only a few days after the plan became public, Telstra was already wavering on whether to be a part of the implementation, mostly because of fears of Internet vigilantes. However, after the demise of LulzSecurity (a prominent “hactivist” group), Telestra reaffirmed its commitment to the censorship regime.

The filter went live yesterday, despite the protests of members of Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA). EFA had claimed that the filter would not prevent access to child pornography, as research had showed that most child exploitation material was shared via peer-to-peer networks or via email.

Users who attempt to access a blocked site on any of the ISPs will be directed to an Interpol stop page, which will explain why the material was inaccessible. This transparency also means that the list of blocked sites can be reverse-engineered by users who come across such pages.

News articles have described the filter as a joke, and as “trivial” to bypass. Initial reports from civil libertarians state that merely changing the DNS settings on one’s computer allows one to bypass the filtering system. Optus claims this as a feature of the block list. Telstra was unwilling to comment on how to bypass the new filtering system. An Internet Industry spokesperson compared changing the DNS settings to “hot-wiring a car or forcing entry into a home.”

This ISP censorship is unrelated to the previous Gillard-Conroy proposal that would restrict online content to material with a specific “refused classification” rating. That plan is on hold, pending a review of the classification system.