Conroy unlikely to reveal secret filter forum results

The Australian Government's filter forum has been closed, but the results from online consultation may never be made public

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has announced the closure of an online forum used by the Australian Government and Internet service providers in discussing the implementation of the Government's proposed mandatory Internet filter.

Speaking at a Senate budget estimates hearing, the department deputy secretary, Abul Rizvi, said that the online forum had closed but "the consultation with ISPs on this is ongoing".

"We will be preparing a report out of that forum and that will be together with other advice to the minister regarding the implementation of ISP filtering," he said.

However, Senator Stephen Conroy, also present at the hearing, was unable to commit to the release of any such report to the public, instead putting the question "on notice" and effectively delaying an answer.

"There may be network issues which ISPs have individualised... that ISPs wouldn't want publicised," Conroy said. "If ISPs are happy for all of the information to be released; well they've released most of it themselves."

Rizvi said the ISP forum filter was disclosed in a press released announcing the Internet filter in December last year, when service providers were urged to register interest online with the Department in order to take part in discussions surrounding the filter. A total of 687 service providers were approached, the names of which the government obtained through the Australian Media and Communications Authority's (ACMA) carrier license register, the Internet Ombudsman service providers list, and via other means.

According to the department, the forum was designed as a means to discuss technical aspects of ISP-level filtering, development of grants for optional filtering, developing of filtering tools and the secure transmission of the Refused Classification blacklist to ISPs.

Under current guidelines, the blacklist would be transmitted to ISPs for implementation, rather than updated in real-time.

Among other things, Rizvi was unable to clarify whether service providers were forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement surrounding the contents of the forum.

After sitting on the other side of the hearings table earlier that day, the communications minister frustrated the Senate hearings committee by dodging questions surrounding the forum. However, the department did reveal that it was yet to determine any penalties to be placed on parties that possess and disseminate copies of the blacklist.

"There's an awful lot of really basic info going on notice tonight," Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam, said during the hearing. "I'm going to have to wait until after the election aren't I?"

Instead, Conroy launched tirades on search giant Google and social networking site Facebook over privacy issues raised with both corporations over the past week. The Senator called Google's collection of Wi-Fi data the "single greatest privacy breach in history", and attacked the social networking site over a failure to keep user's data private.

Ludlam subsequently changed his Facebook status to reflect Conroy's statements, saying "Conroy bagging out facebook. You read it here first."

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Tags Senator Scott LudlamDepartment of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE)internet filteringSenator Stephen Conroy

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