March 19, 2009 (InfoPowa News) — The white hot controversy over
the attempts by the Australian government to censor the Internet
erupted again in Australia this week as a leaked blacklist surfaced on
the Wikileaks website.
 
‘The Australian’ newspaper reported that the top-secret list
(apparently blocked sites are not notified of the action taken against
them or why) was at the center of a federal government trial of a
proposed new enforcement regime aimed at blocking sites that the
government’s Australian Communications and Media Authority considers unsuitable for Australians.
 
The newspaper reported that the secret blacklist, which is maintained
by the ACMA, contains 2,395 web pages including those which have been
refused classification, X18+ and MA15+ content.
 
But the list is now in the public domain, having been published by
Wikileaks, an anonymous document repository for whistleblowers, after
it was obtained from an Internet filtering software maker.
 
“While Wikileaks is used to exposing secret government censorship in
developing countries, we now find Australia acting like a democratic
backwater,” the Wikileaks website noted. “History shows that secret
censorship systems, whatever their original intent, are invariably
corrupted into anti-democratic behaviour.”
 
Wikileaks has also published website blacklists for Thailand, Denmark and Norway.
 
The content of the list of illegal, prohibited and potentially
prohibited web pages is meant to be strictly confidential. It forms the
backbone of the federal Government’s Internet censorship plan, which is
currently undergoing trials with a number of Internet service
providers.
 
Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was quick to
condemn the leak, and claimed it was not the ACMA’s list: “I am aware
of reports that a list of URLs has been placed on a web site. This is
not the ACMA blacklist,” he said. “The published list purports to be
current at 6 August 2008 and apparently contains approximately 2,400
URLs whereas the ACMA blacklist for the same date contained 1,061 URLs.”
 
The Minister described the leak as “grossly irresponsible”.
 
“Under existing laws the ACMA blacklist includes URLs relating to child
sexual abuse, rape, incest, bestiality, sexual violence and detailed
instruction in crime,” Senator Conroy said. “No one interested in cyber
safety would condone the leaking of this list.”
 
The Australian reports that of the 2,395 web pages on the leaked list,
approximately half relate to child porn. But many more web pages simply
relate to online poker sites, specific YouTube links, pornography sites, and Wikipedia entries.
 
ACMA is investigating the leak and is considering a range of possible
actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal
Police. The agency threatened that any Australians caught distributing
the list could face criminal charges.
 
The Internet censorship story was also carried by the Courier Mail
newspaper, which revealed that a dentist’s practice, a tuckshop
convener and a kennel operator in Queensland have all been wrongly
included on the list of websites that ISPs are supposed to block.
 
The owners of the companies were outraged when approached for comment
by the newspaper. The manager of the dental surgery said they had never
been contacted by ACMA about being on the list, and were struggling to
understand how their website, http://www.dentaldistinction.com.au, had
come to be on it. The only explanation possible was that the list was
hopelessly out of date — the dental website had been hacked once,
eighteen months ago, diverting visitors to a sex toy shop, but that had
all been sorted out at the time.
 
One of the banned sites on the leaked blacklist that surprised Herald
Sun newspaper reporters was one of the most popular websites in
Australia. Although it is constrained by law from naming the website in
question, the Herald Sun revealed that it was a popular porn site and
the 38th most popular in Australia, according to web ranking service
Alexa. The site is visited by millions of Australians and is more
popular than sites like White Pages, Yellow Pages, Optus, Career One
and the official sites of the NSW, Victoria and Queensland state
governments, the newspaper added.
 
The Herald Sun quoted Colin Jacobs, vice chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia,
as saying: “Many of the sites clearly contain only run-of-the-mill
adult material, poker tips, or nothing controversial at all. Even if
some of these sites may have been defaced at the time they were added
to the list, how would the operators get their sites removed if the
list is secret and no appeal is possible?”
 
“The leaking of this list has confirmed some of our worst fears,”
Jacobs continued. “This was bound to happen, especially as mandatory
filtering would require the list to be distributed to ISPs all around
the country.
 
“The Government is now in the unenviable business of compiling and
distributing a list which includes salacious and illegal material and
publicising those very sites to the world.”