The office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has acknowledged the existence of a protected online forum used to discuss controversial issues about the internet filter, but has appeared to reject forum suggestions from departmental officials that the government could make it an offence to promote methods of circumventing the filter.
The site is being hosted internally by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE). In screenshots sighted by Delimiter today, internet service providers (ISPs) such as Pacific Internet and Webshield — which will be required to implement the scheme if it goes ahead — discuss the filter with unnamed departmental officials.
In the forum postings, officials from Conroy's DBCDE wrote that they were exploring whether the planned filter legislation needed to make the specific promotion of circumventing the technology — by ISPs, for example — an offence.
In response to a question about whether it could confirm the option was being explored, Conroy's office this afternoon issued a statement saying the government "will not be creating any specific offences in relation to circumvention".
Online rights advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Australia (which revealed the existence of the online forum within DBCDE today) immediately slammed the forum's creation as a "secret club", but Conroy's office said it was one aspect of consultations with ISPs on the implementation of the ISP filter.
"All Australian ISPs were invited to participate," the statement said.
The minister's office also responded to a variety of other contentious issues raised by the department in the online forum.
On the issue of high-traffic sites hosting refused classification (RC) content not being listed on the planned blacklist of banned sites, Conroy's statement said the minister had stated publicly that this would be the case if the sites agreed to a process of either removing RC-rated content or blocking it from Australian users when identified through the public complaints process.
As for when legislation would be introduced into Parliament, Conroy's office said a public consultation on improved transparency measures for the filter had been held, and DBCDE was now working with other government agencies to consider the submissions and examine whether the ideas could be used.
Once these and other consultation processes were complete, "the legislation will be introduced into Parliament", Conroy's office said.