Australian government to educate agencies on internet filter notices

The Australian government has said it will work with government agencies to ensure Section 313 requests to block websites are "properly targeted".

Following the revelation that the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) accidentally blocked over 1,200 websites after sending a Section 313 request to Australian ISPs to block a website linked to fraud, the Australian government has defended the process and said it will work with agencies to get it right in the future.

In April, ASIC issued a Section 313 notice to telecommunications providers seeking to block access to the website linked to an investment fraud scam where investors were getting cold calls from fraudulent financial services that point investors to the website.

The regulator this afternoon confirmed that in the process of blocking that website, it also blocked over 1,200 other sites, including the Melbourne Free University website. ASIC has since had the block lifted.

However, the revelation that the Australian government was covertly blocking websites without notifying the public, and without any oversight or appeals process, unlike the Interpol "worst of the worst" filter list, has been met with sharp criticism from groups such as Pirate Party Australia and the Greens.

Pirate Party Australia said this afternoon that the legislation that empowers government agencies to seek to block websites was "flawed" and being abused.

A spokesperson for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said that ASIC had issued the notices because they believed the website was in breach of Australian law, specifically Section 911a of the Corporations Act.

"Under Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act websites that breach Australian law can be blocked. Other websites that were hosted at the same IP address as the fraud website were unintentionally blocked," the spokesperson said.

"The government is working with enforcement agencies to ensure that Section 313 requests are properly targeted in future."

ZDNet understands that Section 313 notices are not uncommon for telcos to be sent, and usually come from the Australian Federal Police. ISPs assess these notices on a case-by-case basis, and the sites that are sought to be blocked will also be assessed before proceeding with any such block. It remains unclear how ASIC was able to get the request that blocked the 1,200 websites that shared the same IP address as the fraudulent website past the ISPs that ultimately blocked those websites.

Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam indicated to ZDNet this afternoon that he intends to follow up the matter with several government departments in Budget estimates hearings later this month.