Australia Attempts Targeted Internet Censorship, Blocks 250,000 Websites By Accident

Australian Securities & Investments CommissionASICThe land downunder has long been a bit more censor-y than you'd expect from your average English-speaking democracy, especially when it comes to the nasty, nasty Internet. But just because government officials set out to keep the world safe from words and images they don't like doesn't mean they do it well. After concluding that it had the authority to impose Internet censorship on its own without any special legislative authorization, the Australian Securities & Investments Commission ordered ISPs to block Websites suspected of defrauding Australians. It ordered the ISPs to do so not by domain name, but by IP address, which blocks the whole server hosting a Website, as well as any other Websites also hosted.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Australia's corporate watchdog has admitted to inadvertently blocking access to about 250,000 innocuous websites in addition to the 1200 it had already accidentally censored.

ASIC made the concession in a statement at a senate estimates hearing on Tuesday night, after it caused controversy by interpreting a 15-year-old law in the Telecommunications Act as giving it the ability to block websites.

The largest number of sites censored when attempting to block one particular site ASIC believed was defrauding Australians was 250,000. Of these, ASIC said about 1000, or 0.4 per cent, were active sites. It said the 249,000 other sites hosted "no substantive content" or offered their domain name up for sale, rather than hosting a fully-fledged active site.

ASIC asked internet service providers (ISPs) to block sites it believed were defrauding Australians by IP address (such as 203.56.34.11) instead of domain name (such as sitedefraudingaustralians.com). This meant thousands of other sites were blocked in the process, as many sites are often hosted on one shared IP address.

ASIC told senate estimates in its opening statement that it was now examining how it could ensure only a site's specific domain name was blocked and ways it could alert the public to a site being blocked via a pop up page. It was also examining ways such a page could indicate why access was blocked and to whom queries could be made to dispute a block.

A right of appeal? And less indiscriminate censorship? So strict.

Apparently, ASIC's use of an obscure provision of the law to authorize itself to block websites came to light "last month after the webmasters of the Melbourne Free University site couldn't figure out why it was no longer accessible. After making a number of inquiries to their ISP, the webmasters were told that the Australian government had blocked access to the site. The ISP wouldn't provide any more detail." Other federal agencies have reportedly been doing the same thing though details, as you might expect, are hard to come by.

(H/T: Invisible Furry Hand)

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  • ||

    You're just encouraging them by giving them hat tips.

  • ||

    But secretly he's discouraging them by capitalizing the names when they are not.

  • ||

    Meh, I got my hat tip. Which I shall now sell on eBay

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    You can do that!?

  • Almanian!||

    AsGene Hackman's character said in "The Quick and the Dead": "That's close enough...."

  • Almanian!||

    Weird how ifh is always so in teh know about the Aussies. It's like she LIVES there or somehing!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Any Aussie visiting sitedefraudingaustralians.com deserves to get their whatever they use as money down there swindled.

  • Bryan C||

    Australia's gotten soft in the head. They need a new infusion of convicts.

  • fried wylie||

    You call that an internet censorship? No. Now THIS is an internet censorship.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I'm disappointed that the nasty, nasty internet link didn't go to SugarFree's blog.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Hey, ifh. If you don't already you should subscribe to the Institute for Public affairs Hey newsletter. Run by James Roskam, nice guy.

  • ||

    Thanks CB. John Roskam is a dude. Whenever he appears on Q&A (a televised lefty wankfest) Twitter explodes with indignation that such a horrible man with such dangerous views could possibly exist. So he is clearly doing the Lord's work

  • Cliché Bandit||

    (John/James all the same) He is awesome and he is funny...with his accent and what not. I met him at Atlas International. What an amazing organization Atlas is. Reason should have been there. There were guys who were doing cell phone smuggling into NK giving a speech. Sub Saharan guys talking about running their think tank out of tents and helping educate on Austrian econ in the Congo...what a great event it was. John was there talking about what IPA does down under.

  • ||

    wow, that sounds really cool. Cell smuggling into NK has got to be one of the gutsiest things you can do. It's harder to bully starving people if they have that lifeline to a saner world.

  • l0b0t||

    Hey ifh. Would you happen to have any info on a second series of Housos? I can't get enough of Fenech's work but it seems that it might be rubbing the thought-police the wrong way. Curious that language, that would incur heavy fines if used on American TV, is fine and dandy in Oz but some whole topics may be off limits.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    by accident

    uh huh

  • Marc F Cheney||

    Don't Tor and VPNs make this kind of thing completely ineffective?

  • ||

    Feature not bug.

  • Steven J||

    Internet censorship limits not only censors the bad parts of the net, but also good parts (sometimes accidentally) and takes away freedom of opinion. It also creates a market for VPNs and the use of TOR (like Marc mentioned).

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