Federal government slammed for blocking websites

The blocking of 1200 websites by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission has set off calls for tighter controls on the federal government.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy revealed yesterday that the financial regulator ordered ISPs to block websites that appeared fraudulent, according to a report by lt;Igt;Delimiterlt;/Igt;. The order resulted in blocking of the Melbourne Free University website and other legal websites.

Liberty Victoria president, Jane Dixon, told Computerworld Australia there must be a mechanism to appeal if a system of blocking possibly fraudulent sites is introduced. For example, through an independent tribunal, she said. Improper blocking of websites could raise “restraint of trade” issues, she said.

The ASIC practice “opens the door to wide-scale banning of sites,” said Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. “It also means no-one is effectively in charge; other Government agencies could demand sites be blocked with no coordination or accountability in place.”

“The Government needs to abandon this scheme and come up with methods to tackle online fraud that don’t involve widespread censorship of harmless material.”

The Pirate Party’s lead Senate candidate for New South Wales, Brendan Molloy, has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to blocking requests by ASIC.

“It is an inappropriate and reckless reaction by ASIC, an authority that should not even have the powers to order mass censorship, to censor an IP address that has multiple websites associated with it,” he said.

Molloy urged amendment to section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, which was invoked by the ASIC to support the blocking. “This use of section 313 is questionable at best: the Act does not grant any Government agency the power to simply order a website to be blocked.”

Ludlam and Molloy slammed ASIC for not being transparent about its reasons for blocking the websites.

“Surely, if the block was legitimate, they could get a court order and publish the reason behind the blocking,” Molloy said.

Ludlam called the blocking “a filter by stealth that operates with no explanation and no transparency.”

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