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[FYI] (Fwd) AU: EFA Media Release - Gov. approved Net filters attempt to silence critics

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Thu, 29 Jun 2000 16:22:12 +1000
From:           	Irene Graham <rene@pobox.com>
Subject:        	EFA Media Release - Gov. approved Net filters attempt to silence critics
To:             	gilc-plan@gilc.org
Send reply to:  	gilc-plan@gilc.org

Electronic Frontiers Australia

Media Release                                   29 June 2000

Government approved Net filters attempt to silence critics

 Electronic Frontiers Australia (www.efa.org.au) has been selected as
"Blocked Site of the Day" (http://www.peacefire.org/BSOTD/) for
Thursday 29 June by Peacefire, a US-based organisation supporting free
speech for Internet users under 18. Peacefire recently discovered
that, for the last five months, the EFA web site had been on a list of
"sexually explicit" sites blocked by SurfWatch, although EFA's site
does not contain sexually explicit material. 

 Peacefire also found the Liberal Party of Australia South
Australian Division's web site blocked by SurfWatch. Last August, the
SA State Council resolved that "the Federal Government should revoke
its recently introduced Internet Censorship legislation as it is

 EFA and Peacefire have been outspoken critics of blocking software
and the Australian Government approved Code of Practice for ISPs which
came into effect with Australian Internet censorship laws in January.
Under the Code, ISPs are required to provide their customers with
blocking software >from an approved list, with costs being passed on
to the end user. SurfWatch is one of several American-made blocking
programs listed as an "Approved Filter" in the Code.

 "The Code states that filters are added to the list only after
approval by the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Internet
Industry Association, so you'd think someone had checked that they
operate as advertised," said Irene Graham, EFA's Executive Director.
"Not so. Although the approved filters were selected from a list in a
government-commissioned filter evaluation report, that report
emphasises that filters were 'not tested for how well they carry out
filtering, and hence fitness for purpose is not warranted'. There's
been no indication that the ABA or the IIA subsequently made any
attempt to check the suppliers' claims."

 Both EFA and Peacefire have also expressed concern that software
designed around the standards of the American "Bible Belt" will make
blocking decisions that seem ridiculous to Australians, such as the
blocking of the EFA Web site by SurfWatch.  

 "While a private company can legally block any site that it wants to,
the software recommendations in the Code of Practice were based in
part on statements submitted by the blocking software companies, many
of which have been contradicted by third-party investigations," said
Bennett Haselton, Peacefire's webmaster.  

 Statements on the SurfWatch Web page include: "Before adding any site
to our database, each site 'candidate' is reviewed by a SurfWatch
Content Specialist"; "We only block those sites that match these
criteria"; "We review the impact that each word or site block will
have once implemented in our filters".

 "Such claims are obviously false," said Graham.  "EFA's site
does not contain 'sexually explicit' material and we have never
received complaints about content. On the contrary we receive thanks,
and also requests for further information from students and teachers
regarding government policy and legislation relating to the Internet.
It is disturbing that some schools may install SurfWatch on the basis
that it is 'approved', thereby blocking students from accessing
resources they find useful during research for school assignments."

 Haselton added: "SurfWatch claims that a query tool on their Web site
can be used to determine whether a site is blocked by SurfWatch.
However, tests have shown that the form on the SurfWatch site often
returns incorrect results, saying in this case that
"http://www.efa.org.au/" is "not blocked", when in fact the EFA site
has been blocked by SurfWatch since February 2000".

 As well as sites a filter supplier would block of their own accord,
the block lists of "Approved Filters" such as SurfWatch may include
sites notified to them by the Australian Broadcasting Authority under
Australia's Internet censorship laws. It is not clear whether filter
suppliers lose their approved filter status if they fail to block
sites notified to them by the ABA, nor whether filter suppliers check
sites notified by the ABA. The ABA does not publicly disclose details
of sites notified to approved filter suppliers. 

 "The Australian public has a right to know exactly which Internet
sites the ABA is attempting to control access to, in the same way that
decisions banning particular films, publications and computer games
are made public," said Graham. "EFA has been attempting to obtain
details of such sites for several months under Freedom of Information

 Ironically, last August the Liberal Party SA State Council
commended legislation forcing ISPs to make blocking software available
to customers. Perhaps they did not expect their own site to end up on
the secret blacklist of a government approved filter.

   Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc  --  http://www.efa.org.au/ EFA
   is a non-profit organisation representing Internet users concerned
   with on-line freedoms. EFA's site contains information about
   governmental policy and law concerning the Internet.

   Peacefire.org -- http://www.peacefire.org
   Peacefire is the largest organisation supporting free speech for
   Internet users under 18.  Peacefire's "Blocked Site of the Day"
   features political, medical, and educational sites that have been
   blocked by different blocking software programs.

   URL of this release: 


   Media Contacts:

   Irene Graham                       Bennett Haselton
   Electronic Frontiers Australia     Peacefire
   Phone: +61 (2) 9255 7969           Phone: +1 (425) 649 9024        
          0412 997 163                Email: bennett@peacefire.org    
   Email: igraham@efa.org.au


Background Information:

Screen shot of EFA web site being blocked by Surfwatch:

Screen shot of SA Liberal Party web site being blocked by Surfwatch:

Australian Code of Practice for ISPs - Schedule of Approved Filters:

Australian Government Commissioned Filter Evaluation Report:
"Access Prevention Techniques for Internet Content Filtering" prepared
for the National Office for the Information Economy by Paul
Greenfield, Philip McCrea, Shuping Ran (CSIRO), December 1999

Liberal Party of Australia: SA Division, Resolution - August 1999
"That this State Council believes: 1. That legislation forcing
Internet Service Providers to make web content filtering software
available to new customers within the price of their service is a
worthwhile means of addressing parental concerns about Internet
content." .2 The Federal Government should revoke its recently
introduced Internet Censorship legislation as it is unworkable and
will deter investment in the telecommunications sector."

EFA's Freedom of Information Application to the ABA:


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