Australian Crime Commission rejects limits on website blocking

ACC also wants inquiry to examine penalties for non-compliant ISPs

The Australian Crime Commission has rejected calls for limits on the government agencies that can issue notices under Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act 1997.

Organisations, including, infamously, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), have used the section of the act to request Internet service providers block access to certain websites.

The ACC has also raised the possibility of creating some mechanism for penalising ISPs for not complying with Section 313 notices.

"The success of s.313 for the lawful blocking of websites relies upon private sector compliance with law enforcement requests," states an ACC submission to a parliamentary inquiry examining the use of Section 313.

"It is noted that failure to comply with a request to lawfully block a website pursuant to s.313 does not carry any consequences. In addition to the terms of reference being considered by this inquiry, consideration could also be given to addressing this issue."

The federal government launched the inquiry in July. The inquiry follows bungles by ASIC in 2013. In an attempt to block websites implicated in investment fraud, the financial watchdog issued Section 313 notices that also blocked access to unrelated websites.

The ACC's submission also rejected the creation of a list of government agencies authorised to issue Section 313 notices because it "will not enable flexible responses to the inevitable evolution of the online landscape".

In a similar vein, the organisation argued against requests being limited to a "list of defined offences".

"However, recognising the extent of power to disrupt online services s313 provides, there is merit in considering the proportionality of the activity being conducted or facilitated," the ACC submission stated.

Adding a "proportionality threshold" would "provide response agencies with sufficient flexibility to respond to a wide range of criminal or national security threats," the ACC argued.

Submissions to the inquiry by iiNet, the Internet Society of Australia (ISOC-AU), and industry bodies the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and the Communications Alliance all called for restrictions on the government agencies that can issue Section 313 requests.

The ACC said it believes that the agencies should be able to continue to self-authorise their Section 313 notices, with staff of an organisation submitting a written application to an "authorised officer".

The submission also argued that although the ACC supports "consideration of a formal transparency and accountability regime" — although organisations that issue the notices should not be required to publish "certain information" that could jeopardise investigations or the safety of individuals.

A transparency regime could include measures such as an appeals mechanism or a reporting regime similar to the annual report published by the government on the use of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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Tags internet filtercensorshipcivil libertiesAustralian Crime Commissiontelecommunications actsection 313

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