Politics, Rights, Technology

Australian government departments want to keep power to censor websites

The Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Securities Investment Commission (ASIC), and one unnamed agency have indicated to the government that they would likely seek to keep using powers in the Telecommunications Act to force ISPs to block websites.

In April 2013, following a bungle by ASIC that resulted in accidentally blocking customer access to 250,000 websites for at least two ISPs — when the agency was just seeking to block websites associated with investment fraud — it was revealed that three Commonwealth government agencies had been using Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to compel ISPs to block customer access to websites on their behalf.

Following public backlash, and amid cries of censorship and criticism over the lack of transparency over the power, the then-Labor government promised to review the power, and improve the oversight and transparency of the process.

At the time, despite the controversy, it seems that internally, agencies had indicated to the government that they intended to continue using the power. A briefing document from a meeting convened by the Department of Communications in May 2013, and published online yesterday under Freedom of Information revealed that the three agencies the department had discovered to be using section 313 to block websites indicated their intention to use Section 313(3) in a similar way in the future.

The heavily redacted briefing document showed that the AFP had used the power 21 times between June 2011 and February 2013 to request ISPs to block websites listed on the Interpol worst of child abuse websites, and would continue to do so in the future.

The document also stated that the AFP may have also used the power to combat some spam and phishing sites. AFP deputy commissioner Michael Phelan said last year that this is not an efficient method of dealing with malware sites.

ASIC was also listed as intending to use the power again — via redwolf.newsvine.com

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