Australia and URL-Blocking

The Australian Communications and Media Authority plays a role somewhat similar to our Canadian Radio and Television Commission. Recently there’s been a kerfuffle over a list on Wikileaks purporting to be the ACMA website blacklist. The ACMA says that under Australian legislation it is required:

to take action if as a result of an investigation it locates content that is prohibited content or potential prohibited content. In the case of content that is hosted in or provided from Australia, ACMA must issue a take-down notice to the person hosting the content. ACMA has no power to direct the removal of prohibited content and potential prohibited content hosted outside Australia. Instead, under Schedule 5 to the BSA, the Australian internet industry has developed a procedure based on the use of internet filter software. ACMA notifies the URLs of prohibited content and potential prohibited content hosted outside Australia to the makers of certain filter software products, which Australian ISPs are required to offer to their customers.

The take-down notices and filters cover the expected child porn sits sites or links as well as those offering a variety of other contents deemed offensive, such as online gambling and adult pornography. The ACMA issued a press release today in response to the reaction to the Wikileaks publication, the “backgrounder” portion of which sets out what is “prohibited content” and includes:

material containing excessive violence or sexual violence;
material containing detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use;
real depictions of actual sexual activity;
depictions of simulated sexual activity which are not subject to a restricted access system.

Apart from the fact that this seems vulnerable to overreaching, there is the curious statement in the ACMA press release that the blacklist itself ought to remain secret:

ACMA considers that any publication of the ACMA blacklist would have a substantial adverse effect on the effective administration of the regulatory scheme which aims to prevent access to harmful and offensive online material. Such publication would undermine the public interest outcomes which the current legislation aims to achieve.

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