Australia's Internet filter ruled by a single bureaucrat

No accountability for blacklists, yet Watchdog's word is final

Electronic Frontiers Association (EFA) spokesman Geordie Guy said “an ACMA intern” could make the sole decision to ban Web sites.

“They have absolutely no review process whatsoever; the decision to ban content is final, and there is no judicial oversight.

“The decision is made by a single ACMA staffer, even someone part of a graduate process, who assumes the classification board would not like [a Web site].

“The two types of content that ACMA can hide from the eyes of Australians are prohibited content, which has been previously classified; and potentially prohibited content which is banned on a hunch that the classification board won't like it.”

Guy said the ACMA told a Senate Estimates hearing it did not request classification of the anti-abortion Web site, but had instead extrapolated a prior decision by the board to ban a Web site of similar material. It also told the hearing it would not impose a penalty on the Whirlpool Web site.

Former EFA chair Dale Clapperton said in a previous article that lobby groups will try to exploit the blacklists to push their agendas.

“Every organisation with an axe to grind and any kind of political clout will be lobbying the government to extend the blacklist to block access to whatever it is that pisses them off. They don’t even tell the operators of a site that it has been blacklisted, which as a practical matter means there is no appeal for these decisions, Clapperton said.

“In the case of a false positive it is really dependent on somebody discovering it by chance,” he said.

Speaking on the $11,000 penalty, which was not imposed, Guy said the watchdog was “kind of annoyed” that the Whirlpool member complaint was issued to test the limitations of the ACMA blacklist rather than from “someone genuinely morally outraged by the content”.

He said the ACMA redress is a step away from the freedoms of online forums towards Internet censorship where Web masters must become content police.

Only a handful of complainants from more than 6000 since January 2000 have published verbatim responses, according to the ACMA.

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