In a Senate Estimates hearing on Tuesday, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) revealed that it had ‘accidently’ blocked 250,000 websites in March this year.
As reported on 22 March 2013, ASIC came under fire when 1200 innocent websites, of which the majority were owned and operated by Australians, were inadvertently blocked by the government agency. This occurred when ASIC issued IP address blocks instead of domain name blocks to local Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
The inadvertent blocking of 250,000 websites was only uncovered when ASIC reviewed the nine previous instances whereby they issued notices to ISPs to block specific IP addresses. ASIC stated to the hearing that even though 250,000 websites were blocked, only about 1000 of those were ‘fully-fledged’ active websites and none of those were .au domains.
ASIC has vowed to report annually on its blocking of websites.
Read more from Computerworld.
The World Wide Web has changed drastically over the past 15 years, so it is dumbfounding to many that a 15-year-old-law in the Telecommunications Act has been exploited by government agencies to block websites.
For those who don’t remember, back in 2011 the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Stephen Conroy’s proposed Australia-wide web filter was met with strong opposition from the general public and from businesses. Late in 2012, he back-flipped on the issue.
Instead of disclosing to the public of Australia that these practises were now common-place, government agencies such as the ASIC have acted in secret to exploit a law introduced back when the number of websites in existence was less than 1 per cent of what exists today. Frankly, heads need to roll at ASIC and any other government agency involved.
It doesn’t take a genius, or even someone with an IT degree, to realise that blocking IP addresses can, and most likely will result, in the blocking of innocent websites.
As a website owner, I was disgusted at the disregard shown for the rights of the general public and, more importantly, the owners of the websites shown by ASIC at the hearing on Tuesday. To suggest the damage done wasn’t anywhere near as severe as it sounds, due to a large portion of those websites not containing enough information to be considered ‘fully-fledged websites’, is preposterous. This attitude simply reinforces the negligence of the organisation in this perplexing stuff-up.
There is currently no accountability or transparency in the system and amendments to the Telecommunications Act need to be made immediately to outlaw this shady exploitation of an outdated law. Furthermore, public consultation needs to take place before any more notices to block websites are issued and a specific department needs to take control of this procedure with full public disclosure.
What do you think? Is Drew right that those who approved the blocking of websites need to be fired? Is the government trying to enforce a police state on the web? Do you still trust our government to make the right decision when trying to protect you from threats?