No 'coordinated government filter agency': Conroy

Summary:There is no centralised Australian government department overseeing agencies' use of powers to block websites, according to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

There is no central agency overseeing government department and agency use of Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act section that allows agencies to issue notices to request ISPs to block certain websites.

The news comes in the wake of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission accidentally ordering the block of 1,200 websites . ASIC had used section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to get ISPs to block certain websites, such as investor fraud websites. The move has been heavily criticised, with groups such as the Greens and Pirate Party Australia stating that it amounts to an internet filter without oversight or transparency.

In seeking to determine if there is any government oversight into Section 313 use by government agencies, Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam has planned to devote much of his time during Budget estimates hearings over the next two weeks to question government agencies on their use of 313.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told Ludlam in Budget estimates hearings for the Prime Minister's department yesterday that there was no central authority overseeing the use of Section 313.

"To suggest that there is some kind of coordinated government filter agency lurking somewhere in the bureaucracy would be inaccurate," he said.

But the minister said that he would like to see greater transparency around the 313 system.

"As I have indicated, I have asked my department, they have put some proposals to me to improve the transparency around their use," he said.

"We want to ensure that, where action like this is potentially taken — and there are some issues that have to be sensitively worked through — there is at least a page referring you where to go, as the AFP do in the instance [of the Interpol filter]."

Conroy said it would be inappropriate for his department to have oversight into the work being done by other agencies and independent authorities such as ASIC, and that since the ASIC block became public, departments had not been ordered to stop issuing the 313 notices.

"There is no moratorium on independent agencies exercising their judgement, but I am hoping that we can coordinate so that we can provide greater transparency in their use. But there are some sensitive issues, and that is why I am seeking advice."

Conroy said that when his department fronts Budget estimates later in the week, he will have extra detail on the agencies seeking to block websites and the number of sites they have sought to block.

The Prime Minister's Department's first assistant secretary for cyber policy and homeland security, Sachi Wimmer, admitted in the hearing that her department did not have oversight into agency's use of Section 313, but she was aware that agencies were now meeting to discuss the use of the powers, instigated by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

"We are aware that there has been a recent meeting between agencies to talk about the use of Section 313, but we were not at that meeting. I do not think that there is an individual agency that is taking responsibility for the matter; they just talked about it," she said.

Topics: Censorship, Government, Government : AU

About

Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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