NZ Internet filter goes live

New Zealand’s opt-in Internet content filter has gone live today with a least two confirmed participating ISPs.

The government-run and operated scheme was quietly turned on early last month as a soft launch.

The Department of Internal Affairs runs the Swedish Netclean Whitebox content filter on a set of servers. Website requests are filtered by Border Gateway Protocol against a blacklist held on a central server in the government Censorship Compliance Unit. The list is maintained by the Independent Reference Group which reviews banned URLs each month for false positive listings.

Banned websites must be justified and signed-off by three “warranted inspectors of publications”. The blacklist has more than 7000 URLs of child sexual abuse material, according to 2009 government statistics. It has been in construction by the censorship unit since 2005 and is affiliated with Europe’s Cospol Internet Related Child Abusive Material Project

New Zealand Internet Service Provider (ISP) Watchdog managing director, Peter Mancer, said the filter model could be used in Australia and would cost ISPs, excluding Telstra and Optus, less than $1 per customer, per year.

Watchdog and ISP, MaxNet, have officially signed-up to the filtering deployment.

Mancer said Telstra and Optus would likely need to run the filters on their own dedicated servers due to the huge number of subscribers.

“Only a very small amount of traffic is routed through to the filters, so it doesn’t require hugely scalable technology, but only a licence cost per user,” Mancer said.

New Zealand consumer advocacy group, Tech Liberty Thomas Beagle, said Maxnet have not told their customers that they are filtering some of their Internet traffic.

“We’re very disappointed that the filter is now running, it’s a sad day for the New Zealand Internet,” Beagle said in a statement.

Tech Liberty claims the government will not release the names of ISPs using the filter because it wants to negotiate in secret, however the group claims Telstra Clear, Telecom and Vodafone are planning to participate.

The launch of the filter comes ahead of round eight of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations in April.

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff will meet in Wellington with representatives from New Zealand, the US, Europe, Japan, Canada and others for the eighth round of discussion on the draft plurilateral trade agreement, which was leaked last month. The agreement aims to ramp-up control held by intellectual property owners over their products and ideas and reduce counterfeiting and illegal trade. The private negotiations are set to be completed this year.

InternetNZ is planning a Public ACTA conference two days ahead of the ACTA meeting and will see a presentation by renowned University of Ottawa law professor and ACTA-opponent, Michael Gist.

InternetNZ Policy Director, Jordan Carter, said PublicACTA is designed to “give the public the chance to have their say, in contrast to the secrecy of the [ACTA] negotiation process”.

“These plurilateral negotiations appear to extend well beyond the area of trade and physical counterfeiting to potentially cover non-commercial infringement of copyright material by ordinary citizens and digital rights management,” he said in a statement. New Zealand is among the most vocal countries in its objection to the ACTA negotiations and, along with Canada, is opposed to a proposed three-strike HADOPI law, toughening of the ISP safe harbour law, and anti-circumvention rules.

Geist called the leak the most significant leak to-date "since it goes even beyond the transparency debate by including specific country positions and proposals".

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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