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EFA parries Conroy attack

Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) has defended claims by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy that it "misled" the public on the Federal Government's plan to block refused classification material at the internet service provider level.
Written by Ben Grubb, Contributor on

Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) has defended claims by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy that it "misled" the public on the Federal Government's plan to block refused classification material at the internet service provider level.

Stephen Conroy (Credit: Suzanne Tindal/ZDNet.com.au)

Senator Conroy had today attacked the EFA and its vice-chair Colin Jacobs, saying that the organisation had been spreading misinformation, by repeating claims made by Reporters Without Borders as to what the filter would block, but also by saying that the filter would slow the internet.

"They have argued there is no child abuse material traded on the open internet, yet the latest count there were 355 child abuse URLs on the ACMA blacklist and therefore the open internet. They have argued that filtering will slow the internet and will result in over-blocking despite the independent live pilot trial showing that internet filtering can be done..." he said.

Electronic Frontiers Australia did not believe it had been misleading on scope or otherwise.

"The original policy document said [the government] would be filtering the current ACMA blacklist," said EFA vice chair Colin Jacobs. "Only much later into the debate — after the ACMA blacklist was leaked — did the language [Conroy] use start to change."

Jacobs said that the minister had previously used the broad term "almost exclusively refused classification", which did not draw a definite line at what would be blocked. The minister had now appeared to cease using that term, Jacobs said.

The vice chair said it was unfair for the minister to say that the EFA had "misled" the Australian public when it was only using the current information available to it from the minister. "The policy has changed since it was first announced," he said. "We based our information on what was available to us at the time."

"If we have erred in any particular instance, then we welcome a correction. That said, we have carefully considered the legalities and technical issues surrounding the policy and unreservedly stand by our assessment. It will achieve nothing for parents and police, it will cost enormous amounts of money, and presents a real threat to our freedom of speech."

The saga had begun after Conroy accused the EFA of supplying material cited in Reporters without Borders' Enemies of the Internet report, released last Friday. It found Australia should be kept "under surveillance" for signs that internet freedom may soon be curbed.

"While one could possibly excuse Reporters Without Borders for being ignorant of the government's policy, the same cannot be said of the locally run EFA who through Colin Jacobs, chairmen Nic Suzor, and board member Geordie Guy who have run a campaign to deliberately mislead the Australian public," he said.

Today the EFA said in a statement that it had not fed Reporters without Borders information leading to Australia's listing.

"It should go without saying that [Reporters without Borders] have not been coached by us or approached us for comment on this particular issue; they have come to that conclusion on their own."

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