Conroy to receive secret filter forum report

The revelation of the forum’s existence caused a furore in late April

The Greens have dug up a handful of further details about Labor's controversial mandatory filter project through the questions on notice procedure, including the fact that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy will shortly receive a report on a confidential online forum held by his department on the topic in April this year.

The revelation of the forum's existence caused a furore in late April, as the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy was using it to discuss sensitive matters around the filter project, including the possibility of making it an offence to promote methods of circumventing the technology – despite the fact that Conroy's office has explicitly stated it would not be an offence to bypass the filter.

But in a response to questions put in parliament by Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam, the Government said ISPs participating in the forum from 12 to 23 April were not required to sign non-disclosure agreements to take part.

“The department is preparing a report to the Minister on the forum. A decision on the public release of the report will be made by the Minister after he has received a copy of the report,” the statement said.

The Government also revealed that depending on the individual circumstances of the case involved, unauthorised distribution of the secret blacklist of banned web addresses might constitute a criminal offence. The list of “Refused Classification” sites appears to already have been leaked once already to Wikileaks.

However, the Government confirmed that the Australian Federal Police had stopped its investigation into the leak in 2009.

Further Greens questions dealt with the questions of whether certain organisations would be exempt from being filtered, and whether the filter service would affect Australians travelling overseas and using a mobile device to access the internet through a local telco – a technique commonly known as roaming.

“Provision will be made for organisations with a legitimate work requirement to access an unfiltered service. This will apply to organisations such as law enforcement and the Australian Communications and Media Authority,” the Government responded.

And it confirmed that most Australians roaming overseas would be filtered because in the end, their connections would go though a network in Australia.

Finally, Ludlam questioned how many of the 435 web addresses on the blacklist at the time of questioning were sites, rather than individual URLs.

“At 30 April 2010, the ACMA's list of URLs maintained pursuant to the requirements of Schedule 5 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 contained 435 individual URLs relating to online child sexual abuse material,” was the response. “These URLs belonged to 338 different internet domains or sites.”

The news comes as most in Australia's technology sector consider the filter project dead and buried, with both the Greens and the Coalition planning to oppose any legislation that the Gillard Government introduces into Parliament to implement its policy, meaning the legislation is unlikely to have the numbers to proceed. However, the Australian Sex Party has warned the Coalition's opposition to the plan may not be as solid as many have assumed.

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Renai LeMay

PC World
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