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Sunday, March 22

Australian web censorship exposed

Wikileaks has published a list of the websites on the Australian government's blacklist. Those which would be blocked by national-level filtering as well as made illegal for any Australian website to link to.

According to Slashdot, it is possible to rip a version of the list from Race River's Integard - the filtering software that does it. The Wikileaks list appears to be a few months out of date, and doesn't exactly match the leaked list (which isn't that surprising - sites are being blocked and unblocked on a regular basis), but there's enough crossover to demonstrate that the government's claim that the list is inaccurate is obfuscation. This is a genuine copy of the list, just not a current one.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

While the blacklist published on Wikileaks includes a large number of child pornography sites and other illegal material, most of the websites listed have no obvious connection to child pornography.

It includes various online gambling sites, as well as Christian and other religious sites. A Queensland dentist and a tour operator also appear on the list.

The list also contains satanic websites and gay and straight porn sites, as well as euthanasia sites.
This is exactly what is bound to happen when a machine makes up these lists: so called 'collateral damage'.

Wikileaks said censorship systems, whatever their original intent, were invariably corrupted into anti-democratic behaviour.

It cited the Thailand censorship list, saying that like Labor's proposed filter scheme, it was originally proposed as a mechanism to prevent child pornography.

But Wikileaks said that in January, the Thai system was used to censor reporting about the case of Australian author Harry Nicolaides who was recently released from a Thai prison after pleading guilty to criticising the Thai royal family.

Wikileaks said research showed that such blacklists were dangerous to "above ground" activities such as political discourse and had little effect on the production of child pornography.

Although no one has yet advocated such national-level filtering in the UK it may well be only a matter of time as we seem to have a history of adopting Australian policy examples. This is if Labor in Australia can get the law through - a key right-wing independent Senator has become opposed since learning that fetus images on anti-abortion websites would be blocked.

Unfortunately we do already have an effectively national-level blocking system - the Internet Watch Foundation - which is not subject to democratic intervention and empowered through moral panic. So maybe we're further down the Australian line than many, including liberty campaigners, seem to realise.


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