Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) outlined some aspects of how mandatory internet filtering will work at hearings in October, plus growing international connections.
Excerpts from Senate Estimates hearings:
Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communication and The Arts
Monday, 20 October 2008
Senator Scott LUDLAM (Greens, WA)—I believe we are seeing Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) a little bit later in the evening, so I suppose I can ask them about their criteria. Presumably you would have people like the AFP feeding them the criteria for the
sorts of things they are trying to block. I am trying to get a sense of where ACMA is getting its—
Senator Conroy. Minister for Communications—There is a black list that exists at the moment. ACMA can you give you the full details.
One of the things we have been encouraging—and I have spoken at international forums about—is cooperation between the various international policing authorities. This is not a problem you can solve with one jurisdiction. The internet is international. So we have been encouraging greater cooperation between law enforcement agencies across the world so that we can try, where possible, to combine black lists. That will stop us reinventing the wheel, so to speak. So different jurisdictions have a range of different black lists. They have not been coordinated at this stage. We have been trying to drive some international cooperation on that.
Mr Abul Rizvi, Deputy Secretary, Broadcasting, Regional Strategy, Digital Economy and Corporate, of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy —No. Actually, China was not one that I had in mind. I had more the United Kingdom, Canada,
New Zealand and the Netherlands in mind as examples of countries where some level of filtering has been introduced. Predominantly the filtering that has been introduced there is similar to that first stream of filtering that I described—that is, filtering what is known as the equivalent of the ACMA black list, which is at the moment predominantly child pornography sites.
As the minister mentioned, he has been consulting with a number of these countries about the idea of sharing these black lists so that we can take advantage of the economies that that might deliver us. ACMA has been consulting in particular with the United States and the United Kingdom about sharing websites, and they are making good progress in that regard. That would enable a more efficient management of the equivalent of the ACMA black list for Australia. Most Western countries that have introduced filtering have been focusing on the equivalent of the ACMA black list.
Senator Conroy—Just to indicate the countries that have implemented along the lines that Abul is talking about include Sweden, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. This is not some one-off excursion.
Senator Conroy—We are talking about mandatory blocking, where possible, of illegal material—illegal material.
Senator Conroy—We are looking at the opt-out provision. It depends on which way you are looking at it. It can mean the opposite to what it sounds like, so it does get a little confusing. But in terms of the policy, what we are investigating is whether it is possible to ensure that people can opt out of an ISP filter if they wanted to look at material that is legal as opposed to not allowing an opt out for material that is illegal.
Senator LUDLAM—I am not sure if that was a double negative or not.
Senator Conroy—Yes. As I said, it gets—
Senator LUDLAM—And I am not sure whether this issue has been misreported or not, but the way that this issue has been reported in some sources is that the government has decided that there will be two layers— that you can opt out of the deadly illegal stuff or the category B list, or however we want to define it, but that there will not be any other choices other than those two. So I am interested to know whether that has been misreported, whether you have come to the final decision—
Senator Conroy—No. As I said, we are in the early stages. But we are looking at two tiers—mandatory of illegal material and an option for families to get a clean feed service if they wish.
Senator LUDLAM—And an option for an opt out of—
Senator Conroy—Yes, that is what an option means. It means if you want to opt out, then you can continue to look here. But families can get a clean feed and if people want to opt out of the clean feed then they can. That is actually our policy as opposed to what probably you have read.
Mr Rizvi—The situation across the countries actually varies quite considerably, Senator. The situation in the United Kingdom, for example, is that a range of ISPs have introduced black list filtering—that is, the filtering of their equivalent of the ACMA black list. In respect of that filtering in the United Kingdom, the consumer does not have the option of opting out. They get an ISP feed which has those illegal sites filtered out. What is different there is the ISPs that are participating—and it is in fact now in the United Kingdom that the majority of the large ISPs are participating—on a voluntary basis rather than on a legislated basis.
Senator LUDLAM—I will take you back to the chair, but can you just tell me whether, in terms of
discussing finishing up where we started, who is going to be determining what is on these black lists. Is that a question to you, Minister, to the department, to the AFP or to ACMA?
Senator Conroy—As I said, we are enforcing current law and ACMA determine this based on the existing law. So we are happy to have a chat with them. I think they are coming up next as you have indicated, so you can have a chat with them about how they go about determining it. But the general sort of stuff that we are talking about is child porn and they are the sorts of sites that we are targeting. We do not believe that you should be able to opt in to child porn. I am sure you do not either.
Senator LUDLAM—What about, for another controversial example, euthanasia related material?
Senator Conroy—You would have to ask them whether that falls within their definition. There are calls for, as an example, banning pro anorexia websites. Again, it falls into that sort of category. So there are calls for a whole range of material to be included in the black list, but I do not think that they fall inside the existing definitions under the law. I do not think that they are caught.
Senator LUDLAM—Can you then see the basis on which some people might be raising concerns that once we have such a list it can go from being a black list to a very grey list very quickly, depending on how much the government thinks should be filtered. It is almost reversing the burden of proof, which is a very different approach to sending law enforcement agencies after people who are posting—
Senator Conroy—I do not agree with the basis of your assertion that we have—
Senator LUDLAM—You have not heard the assertion.
Senator Conroy—You said it basically reverses the onus of proof. I do not agree.
Mr Rizvi—The ACMA black list has been around for quite a number of years now. It is not a new list.
Senator LUDLAM—I suppose what is new is having complicated automated software deciding what Australians can and cannot see on the net. The black list, as the minister is rightly pointing out, can become very grey depending on how expansive the list becomes—euthanasia material, politically related material, material about anorexia. There is a lot of distasteful stuff on the internet.
Senator Conroy—Existing provisions under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 are able to deal with suicide related material that provides detailed instruction or promotion of matters of crime or violence. It is an existing law.
Senator Conroy—Can I come back to Senator Ludlam’s comment about euthanasia. I was halfway through a sentence in the Broadcasting Services Act. The sort of material I described would be refused classification currently and regarded as prohibited content now. That is what I described before. I am happy to repeat that.
Senator LUDLAM—Have we got time for one more question?
CHAIR, Senator Anne McEwen (ALP, SA)—You can have one more question and then Senator Parry will have a turn.
Senator LUDLAM—Do you want to read that again?
Senator Conroy—I am happy to do that. Existing provisions under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 are able to deal with suicide related material that provides detailed instruction or promotion of matters of crime or violence, and such material would be refused classification and regarded as prohibited content currently.
You might want to ask for the interpretation of that when ACMA comes to the table. That is the existing law. If you want to argue for changes in the existing law around euthanasia—I know many have—then that is a worthy debate and we should have it.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
Senator LUNDY—What is ACMA’s relationship with the International Association of Internet Hotlines, or INHOPE?
Ms O’Loughlin—We are a member of INHOPE.
Senator LUNDY—How does that process work? I do not know much about the organisation, so I am interested in how that works, how you actually become a member and what that means.
Ms Nerida O’Loughlin, General Manager, Industry Outputs Division, ACMA—I might invite Andree Wright, who is the executive manager responsible for our cybersafety initiatives, to the table to give you some more detailed information on that, Senator.
Senator Kate LUNDY (ALP, ACT)—Thank you.
Ms Andree Wright, Executive Manager, Industry Outputs Division —It has been said that to become a member of INHOPE is probably tougher than to be appointed a Federal or High Court judge. What you need to do to qualify is you need to have the active support of your government, your industry and enforcement in your country. You have to have demonstrable security arrangements in place to safeguard the security of the material that comes to you with your hotline and you need to have adequate occupational health and safety measures in place for your staff. The INHOPE network does not take that for granted. They will come and visit—usually spend a week at a time—to assess your processes, to speak with government, to speak with industry and to speak with law enforcement. So I can say with some pride that the ACMA hotline since 2000 has been a foundation member of the INHOPE network. In those days there were eight hotlines. This has expanded to 33 and they now exist throughout Asia, the Americas and Europe. They receive some funding from the European Union but also each hotline, if accepted, does pay membership fees.
In terms of the value of INHOPE for our organisation and for Australia, it is often said to us, ‘You can take down material in your own country, but what can you do overseas?’ The answer to that is quite a lot, because the INHOPE network would deal between the hotlines with over 10,000 reports of material, usually child sexual abuse material, a month. What happens is that each hotline has in place arrangements, as we do here, for take-down of material by issuing take-down notices to local content hosts.
I do not know if you are aware, but less than two per cent of the complaints that come to ACMA are
Australian hosted material, so 98 per cent of the material that we receive complaints about is hosted overseas. So where there is an INHOPE hotline we can refer under secure arrangements to the partner hotline in another country. Unfortunately, most of the material continues to be hosted in the United States of America, but we know that if we make a referral to the CyberTipline they have seconded to them their own FBI officer and that material will be investigated by law enforcement in the USA within 24 to 48 hours of receipt of the complaint. That means that material is exchanged between countries with a view to the country of origin ensuring that the material is taken down.
INHOPE also has in place training and up-to-date protocols to ensure that hotlines are able to trace the material and to have up-to-date security arrangements and indeed to see forthcoming trends with new services and new technologies so that we can continue to do what I think is a vital work. There is an INHOPE meeting being hosted internationally this week. Again, it is a matter of some pride for our agency that we recently I think broke new ground in tandem with the Irish hotline, which reported I think approximately 30 child sexual abuse websites to us.
We discovered that while the domain name was registered here the material was not hosted here. Normally a hotline can only work where the material is hosted. However, working in conjunction with the domain register, we were able to I think break new ground, and they took action to ensure that those domain addresses did not point to child abuse material. This was of considerable interest to the other 32 hotlines, and they have asked for us, in conjunction with the Irish hotline, to demonstrate how we undertook this work with a view to it being a new protocol, a new procedure, for hotlines generally.
Mr Chris Chapman, Chairman ACMA—The pride with which Ms Wright speaks is indicative of a range of activities we are
undertaking, particularly with the online safety aspects. International collaboration is for Australia the key.
Senator LUNDY—I must admit that I was not aware of the extent of the international collaboration of this service and particularly the sorts of successes you are describing. So that is very good news.
Mr Chapman—We would like to think that with the initiatives that we undertake and the department undertakes in this field we punch well above our weight internationally and we make a very strong contribution. There are a number of aspects of the online activities we have undertaken. The one you touched on is an example of recent collaboration. There was one announced just last week where we are working with the United States authorities and New Zealand authorities. We do not want to go into detail because it is a very sensitive investigation. But there again we are getting very strong international cooperation, particularly on the forensic side of it. This is with respect to somebody who lives in Australia but is undertaking business activities overseas. The momentum is starting to swing our way—’our way’ being Australia’s way in terms of international cooperation.
Senator LUNDY—Thanks for that comprehensive response. I was not aware of the way that it had
expanded, so thank you.