Australia: Authorities want ISPs to police the web

(Image: Shutterstock)

(Image: Shutterstock)

When will Australian governments leave the internet alone? Successive governments have shown an inability to allow Australians to go about the business of using the web and browsing at will. Under previous Labor governments, an obsession grew about the need for a mandatory internet filter system. The system would have screened out sites falling into the “Refused Classification” category. Internet activists and the political opposition guffawed at the suggestion. It was deemed excessive and unworkable.

Australia’s new attorney-general, the prickly George Brandis, claims to be interested in freedoms. He certainly spends time talking about it, having established the new office of “Freedom Commissioner” and claiming that the political left has lost sight of traditional civil rights in favour of select, marginal entitlements. His appointee to the position, Tim Wilson of the libertarian Institute of Public Affairs, is meant to signal a policy shift.

Such a move does little to suggest how actual “freedoms” are going to be protected, let alone promoted. Australia’s legislative regime on rights, in the absence of a constitutionally protected bill of rights, is a quilt work of regulations. These are, as ever, the subject of parliamentary change.

When it comes to internet freedoms, Brandis shows a slightly different suspicion of its workings than his predecessors. But in targeting a form of behaviour he cannot accept, he proves to be on familiar ground. The focus here is not morally righteous in the manner of the pornography filterers, but it is righteous in the sense of protecting financial and economic rights. “The illegal downloading of Australian films online is a form of theft.” Both views share a common strand: a desire to circumscribe the way the net, and information, is used.

Before an audience at the Australian Digital Alliance copyright forum last week, Brandis made mention of how he might go about this. The government will consider various legal means to provide a “legal incentive” for ISPs to collaborate with copyright owners to combat infringements. “This may include looking carefully at the merits of a scheme whereby ISPs are required to issue graduated warnings to consumers who are using websites to facilitate piracy.”

A three-strikes system is being pushed, part of a global drive by developed countries to exert greater control over internet content. France, New Zealand, the United States and Britain are all in the stages of implementing such a program. Users of Australia’s broadband system who allegedly download pirated content will be warned before authorities intervene. This can involve threats of discontinuation from the use of the internet after three warnings. So far, owners of content in Australia have been pressing the government to use a warning system short of disconnection.

The effects of this have already been outlined in some detail. Internet service providers such as iiNet and Optus claim that such a policy move will shift the onus on them to police content. That is Brandis’ suggestion: to convert ISPs into cyber policing outfits that will remove websites hosting “illegitimate” material, thereby restraining downloads by customers.

A few points are worth mentioning. The first is how accountability for infringements can be attributed to an ISP. A ruling by the Australian High Court on the liability of an ISP for allowing the downloading of infringing content is instructive. In 2012, the court unanimously found in a case mounted by 34 studios and television companies against iiNet that the ISP was not liable for authorising copyright infringement.

Roadshow Films v iiNet proved to be a global test case on illegal downloads. It found that iiNet did not have direct power to prevent infringements given its lack of control over the BitTorrent protocol. The only way to prevent violations would have been excessive: eliminating a customer’s Internet access altogether, which would also prevent legitimate uses of it. Indifference to cases of infringement was not the same as authorisation of it. And expecting iiNet to do what the plaintiffs wanted would have resulted in heavy expense, inconvenience and liability for terminating customer accounts.

The other point to make is that such graduated systems are set to fail even as they unduly burden the industry. The experiences in France, New Zealand and the UK have shown them to be counterproductive. Steve Dalby, chief regulatory officer of iiNet, forcefully argues that content should be made available via a system of timely release using such streaming services as Netflix and Hulu. “It can’t be a coincidence that graduated response doesn’t work anywhere else in the world, and making content available in a timely fashion in the US market does work.”

Such suggestions by Brandis cast light on preliminary moves on the part of Australia to import American models of intellectual property law into the domestic system. Australia has been the least disagreeable of the countries involved in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with the United States, which contains a substantive chapter on intellectual property.

The intellectual property chapter of the secretly negotiated agreement, obtained by WikiLeaks, suggests the extent the TPP will control the way “protected” content, be it technology, medicine and publishing, will be controlled. Mandatory removals and targeting copyright infringements are fundamental to the changes. The main investors in such an arrangement are US companies who will seek, through the legal regulations in other countries, to control the release of protected material. Aspects of the contentious Digital Millennium Copyright Act have found their way into the agreement.

While the interests of copyright are important to consider, the tendency to control the global Internet via an internationalised copyright regime that coopts ISPs into the role of monitors serves no useful role in preventing infringements. This has the effect of turning a provider of such services into a security service for corporate rights. But it is a trend proving irresistible to all governments, especially those in industrial countries.

This article was posted on February 19, 2014 at

What did Russia block this autumn?

Press briefing after the talks between Putin and Merkel - Berlin

This autumn the Russian authorities have made it clear that they are intent on extending the blocking of websites. In September, two prominent State Duma members of the ruling United Russia party, Robert Shlegel and Maria Maksakova, submitted amendments to an anti-piracy law, prohibiting illegal distribution of movie. These entered into force on 1 August. The deputies propose to supplement the law with measures that protect the copyright of musicians, writers and computer program developers.

In November, Andrei Lugovoi, a MP from the rightwing nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, submitted a bill proposing the extrajudicial blocking of sites containing calls for riots or extremist activities, including calls to take part in public events held deemed to be in violation of the established order. Hitherto, such sites have been subject to blocking by a court order. This initiative was met with general approval by members of the State Duma.


Chechen prosecutor seeks to block anti-Putin article

On 23 September the Chechen Republic prosecutor announced the filing of writs against internet service providers (ISPs), demanding restrictions on access to a website publishing the anti-Putin polemic “Putin’s plan is Russia’s misfortune”. The article is on the Federal List of Extremist Materials.

Chechen prosecutor moves against ISPs over Islamist material

On 11 September the Chechen Republic prosecutor announced the filing of writs to restrict access to a website featuring the Islamist piece “Zaiavlenie komandovaniia mudzhakhidov Vilaiata Galgaiche” (Statement of the Mujahideen commanders of Vilayata Galgaiche), which is on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The defendants were not identified in the report.

Smolensk prosecutor starts proceedings against ISP for video

On 11 September it was reported the Leninsky district prosecutor had issued a writ to the ISP MAN Set for allowing public access to videos included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The ISP complied with the writ and those responsible for allowing access faced disciplinary charges.

MTS receives a order to block video in Altai Republic

On 10 September the Gorno-Altaysk city court granted the Altai Republic prosecutor’s motion demanding that the ISP Mobilnye Telesystemy restrict access “to an extremist video clip posted on 16 websites”. The clip in question was not specified. The decision was made in the absence of the defendant.

Moscow court orders ISPs to block sites

On 25 September the Moscow city prosecutor reported that the Kuzminsky district court had accepted the demand of the Kuzminskaia interdistrict prosecutor that the ISPs Click and Obiedinennye Lokalnye Seti limit access to five websites that made available Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The prosecutor also demanded a block on a website containing citizens’ personal data.

Krasnodar moves against extremist posts on social network

On 25 September the Krasnodar regional prosecutor reported that the Adlersky district court in Sochi had accepted the demand of the district prosecutor that it define two Islamist texts published on the VKontakte social network as extremist.

Prosecutors move against website in Chechnya

On 11 September the Urus-Martanovsky district prosecutor filed a lawsuit demanding that ISPs limit access to a website for publishing the video Videovestnik Russkoi Molodezhi (the Youth Messenger), included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The case is pending.

Blogs targeted in Ulyanovsk

On 25 September the Ulyanovsk regional prosecutor reported that the Zavolzhsky district prosecutor had issued writs demanding the ISPs ER-Telecom Holding and Rostelecom cease offering access to the websites and Both are legally recognised as extremist [for being aliases] for the Chechen militants’ website Kavkazcenter.

Education and schools

Kamchatka schools told to shield students

On 13 September it was reported that the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky city prosecutor had issued demands that several schools install content filters to prevent access to websites containing extremist propaganda.

Lipetsk schools allowed access to banned sites

On 27 September it was reported that the Dankovskaia interdistrict prosecutor in Lipetsk region had demanded the director of Dankov Secondary School No 1 eliminate violations of the child protection law. An inspection had revealed that the internet filtering system installed on school computers was not blocking access to websites about drugs, pornography and suicide. It also allowed access to the texts of songs included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials.

Blind students ‘could read Mein Kampf’ in Omsk school

On 17 September it was reported that the Omsk city prosecutor had identified a number of violations at Boarding School No 14 for visually impaired children. In particular, the school computers allowed access to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, as well as to websites containing pornographic images, violence and drug propaganda.

University fined for banned site breach

On 3 September it was reported that the Sverdlovsk regional arbitration court had accepted the demand of a fine for B N Yeltsin Ural Federal University, issued by the Ural regional office of the watchdog Roskomnadzor. The university had failed to submit an application for an access code to the register of banned websites. As a result, students had access to resources included on the register. The court imposed a fine of 30 thousand rubles on the university. The court’s decision has not yet entered into force.

Suicide propaganda

Penza prosecutor tries to block suicide prevention

On 11th September it became known that the local Penza’s prosecutor office asked the court to block access to the website (“You win”). The website is part of group – a suicide prevention resource that works with psychologists, psychiatrists, forensic experts and the clergy.

Kaliningrad prosecutor moves against suicide sites

On 23 September it was reported that the Moskovsky district court of Kaliningrad had received a prosecutorial request that the ISP TIS-Dialo restrict access to several websites describing methods of committing suicide.

Drugs and alcohol

Facebook almost blocked for advertising smoking blends

The Russian branch of Facebook came close to being blocked for publishing advertisements for illegal smoking blends in September, according to reports from the Itar-Tass news agency, citing Facebook’s Russian press service. Facebook said users had reported the ads for smoking blends on 16 September and the company had been unable to do so because of a technical glitch. The incident followed a warning from the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) that it intended to inspect social networking sites for ads for banned substances. The media watchdog Roskomnadzor subsequently warned Facebook that it had been provisionally placed on the register of banned websites and would be shut down if it did not remove the ads. Facebook announced on 19 September that it removed the offending content.

Reports filed on ISPs in Kurgan

On 18 September it was reported that the Kurgan regional office of Roscomnadzor had compiled reports on two ISPs that were not blocking access to websites advertising illegal drugs.

Yekaterinburg complains about alcohol advertising

On 17 September it was reported that Sergei Trushin, deputy head of the Yekaterinburg administration, had sent a letter to the regional office of the interior ministry requesting action against websites advertising the sale of alcohol. The Ministry of Internal Affairs shut down the sites and the people behind them were fined.

Gambling and casinos

Yekaterinburg ISP loses appeal

On 3 September it became known that the Sverdlovsk regional court had accepted the demand of the Kirovsky district prosecutor in Yekaterinburg that the ISP VympelCom-Communications block five gambling websites based on foreign servers. The demand had been accepted by a district court but the ISP had appealed.

Eight gambling sites blocked in Tomsk

On 12 September the Tomsk regional prosecutor announced that the Strezhevoy town prosecutor had filed a lawsuit against the ISP Danzer demanding restrictions on access to eight online casinos. The ISP complied by blocking the sites.

Rostelecom blocks William Hill

On 5 September Rostelecom blocked its subscribers’ access to the largest UK betting website, The ISP Qwerty in Moscow and the surrounding region also blocked access to the site.

Rostelecom subscribers could not access the website’s primary domain, online casinos or online poker sites. Instead, they saw a message announcing that the domain had been blocked by court order or that the address had been placed on the register of banned websites.

Torrents and piracy

Moscow court bans 11 torrent sites

On 5 September Moscow city court accepted the claim of NTV-Profit against 11 online torrent sites —,,,,,,,,,, – that were distributing the popular Russian-made films Vor (The Thief), Krutoi Povorot (Sharp Turn) and Interny (The Interns).

Portal avoids block for streaming

On 5 September Moscow city court accepted a request by the Central Partnership Sales House requesting to block the torrent portal to prevent it distributing the American films Now You See Me and Taken 2. Rutracker removed the films and avoided being blocked.

And the rest

Pussy Riot icon banned

On 9 September it was announced that the Tsentralny district court had granted a request by the Zheleznodorozhny district prosecutor of Novosibirsk to declare an icon-like image of Pussy Riot, created by the artist Artyom Loskutov, banned from distribution via the internet. The image has been added to the register of banned websites.

Block on inaccessible site demanded

On 24 September it was announced that the Yegoryevsk city court had granted the city prosecutor’s motion against Yegoryevskaia Telekommunikatsionnaia Kompaniia (Yegoryevsk Telecommunications Company) to limit access to an online casino website. Earlier, the same court had ruled in favour of the provider, but the prosecutors challenged the decision, and the Moscow regional court sent the case back for retrial. The Yegoryevsk city court ordered the provider to restrict access to the site, but the access to the website was found to already be blocked – perhaps, by the online casino’s owner or another operator. However, the court insists that Yegoryevskaia Telekommunikatsionnaia Kompaniia should be the one to implement access restrictions. The court provided no advice on how to block an already inaccessible site.

Stavropol prosecutor seeks block on e-library for one book

On 25 September the Stavropol regional prosecutor reported that the Novoaleksandrovsky district prosecutor had filed a claim in Leninsky district court against the Stavropol regional branch of Rostelecom, demanding restrictions on access to the website The site provides public access to the book Skiny: Rus probuzhdaetsya (Skinheads: Rus Is Awakening) by Dimitri Nesterov, which is on the Federal List of Extremist Materials

Roscomnadzor blocks porn site

On 13 September it was reported that Roscomnadzor had included the porn site on the register of banned websites. The reason for placing the site on the register was not specified, but it might have been because it published a cartoon entitled “Hentai school girls fucking for better grades”.

TV channel targeted in Moscow

On 6 September it was announced that the central investigations directorate of the ministry of internal affairs in the Moscow Region had demanded that the website of Dozhd (Rain) TV channel be blocked for violation of Part 2 of the Criminal Code Article 282 (“incitement to hatred or hostility and humiliation of human dignity”). TV Dozhd is the country’s most popular online TV news channel and is relatively independent. The exact nature of the material deemed objectionable was not reported. The Ru-Center domain registrar confirmed the existence of the police request, but, since the request was filled out incorrectly, the TV channel website was not blocked. Interior ministry representatives subsequently denied the reports. The administration of Dozhd also stated that they had received no such orders from the ministry of internal affairs.

Saratov ISP ordered to ban ads for bankrupt company

On 6 September it was reported that the Kirovsky district prosecutor in Saratov had filed a lawsuit against the ISP Saratovskaia Sistema Sotovoi Sviazi (SSSS) demanding that it restrict access to an internet portal advertising a bankrupt company. The ISP refused to block the relevant IP address because it was also used by three unrelated sites. In addition, the provider stated that it had no control over IP address changes, while an advertiser could always change it. However, the court granted the prosecutor’s claim and ordered the ISP to restrict access to the site.

ISPs fined in Moscow and Saratov

On 3 September it was announced that the Moscow arbitration court had fined the ISP KMC Telecom and that the Saratov regional arbitration court had fined the ISP Hemikomp for ignoring the requirement to sign up to the register of banned websites. In both cases, the decisions were made based on evidence from the media watchdog Roskomnadzor. It said the ISPs’ reluctance to register and block access to websites listed on the register was in violation of Part 3.14 of the Administrative Code (entrepreneurial activity without state registration).

Amur ISPs reported for non-compliance

On 14 September it was reported that the Amur office of Roscomnadzor had filed administrative responsibility reports against the following ISPs: Amurtelekom, A- Link, Transsvyaztelekom, Inter.kom, KRUG, GudNet, Moia Komputernaia Set, Gorodok, and Edinaia Gorodskaia Set. Roscomnadzor demanded penalties for their failure to comply with the register of banned websites. If the violation is not addressed, each provider faces a fine of up to 40,000 rubles.

Consumer protection site temporarily blocked

On 26 September it was reported that, a consumers’ rights website, had been added to the register of banned websites. The addition was triggered by the decision of the Salekhard city court of 18 April 2013 to block access to websites containing extremist materials. The consumer protection website had been blocked because it had the same the IP- address as extremist websites. In late September the site was, once again, accessible from Moscow.

Owner loses appeal against ban

On 20 September it became known that Vladimir Kharitonov, the owner and administrator of the website Novosti elektronnogo knigoizdaniia (News of electronic book publishing,, had filed an appeal with the Moscow city court against Roskomnadzor’s decision to include it on the register of banned websites. Kharitonov had previously attempted to appeal the decision, but the Tagansky district court dismissed his appeal in March. The Moscow city court did the same in September. The owner of the website intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Prosecutor blocks 15 Omsk sites

On 17 September it became known that the Omsk city prosecutor had succeeded in blocking 15 websites. Previously, the Tsentralny district court had dismissed the claim of the Omsk city prosecutor demanding that the local branch of Rostelecom restrict access to 15 sites selling certificates and diplomas. The prosecutor appealed the decision and the Omsk regional court overturned the lower court’s decision and ordered the internet provider to block the websites.

This article was originally posted on 22 Nov 2013 at

Child protection web filters censor BNP, lifestyle and technology sites

A number of British mobile networks are blocking the far-right British National Party’s website, it has been revealed.

Following a report by LSE Media Policy Project and Open Rights Group (ORG) on mobile internet censorship, a number of web-users alerted ORG that the BNP’s website is blocked on a variety of mobile networks if child protection filters are active, once again raising the question of the efficacy of online filtering systems.

Though these sites are blocked through child protection systems, ORG argues that often filters such as these are “on by default” and can block too much content through “mistaken categorisations”.

ORG also raise the question of whether internet service providers (ISP’s) should be blocking the website of a political party at all, citing political speech as “the core of the activities protected by freedom of expression rights”.

Upon further investigation of the alleged blocking, Index found it was blocked on Tmobile, Orange and Vodafone. We also noted with particular interest that the site was restricted to over 18s on 02, and subject to a charge of £1 to clarify you were of age to access the controversial political party’s website, and any other age restricted sites. Is this perhaps some kind of “porn tax” from the mobile networks? Why should a customer pay to verify their age?

In her response to the Mobile Censorship report on the LSE Media Policy Project’s blog, Index’s editor Jo Glanville said: “It has long been demonstrated that filtering systems are a blunt tool that censor content beyond the sites that are targeted”.

Glanville added that the criteria for blocking content on mobile phones are “alarmingly opaque” and explains that companies do not inform their customers that their phones “are blocked by default”. Glanville also describes “alarming evidence” detailed in the report, that phone companies failed to act when they were informed that a site had been wrongly blocked.

There is a particular concern that sites which are being blocked by child protection filters cover broader categories than adult sexual content, and that mobile networks are making decisions about what under 18s should be exposed to. ORG argues that the scope of content blocked on the mobile phones of young people should be determined by parents, in a discussion with their children.

“The current panic around protection of children has introduced the mistaken belief that filtering is a solution,” explains Glanville. “ORG and LSE have provided the timely evidence to show that it is, on the contrary damaging.”

It’s not just party political sites which are being blocked by these networks. Users also alerted ORG to a number of “anti-feminism” sites which were being blocked, including, and, are all blocked on o2 and Vodafone, while is blocked on Three and Orange. They also detail a number of reports that “lifestyle” sites have been blocked by mobile network providers, along with a number of technology-related news sites and some discussion forums.

And this problem seems to be fairly widespread. A Twitter user today alerted The F Word, a UK feminist site, that access to their website was blocked on o2.

Following their report, ORG and LSE called on mobile networks to offer an “opt in” system for filtering, rather than having to “opt out”, and for further clarity on the source of filtering technology. The report also recommends regular reviews of filtering systems and their efficacy.

Alice Purkiss is an editorial assistant at Index. She tweets at @alicemaypurkiss

UK: Anonymous downs Virgin Media site over Pirate Bay censorship

Notorious hacking group Anonymous targeted Virgin Media yesterday, to protest the blocking of file-sharing website The Pirate Bay. The attack forced the internet service provider to take its website offline for one hour. Around the time of the attack, a Twitter account which has been linked to the group read:

Virgin Media began preventing access to the site after a ruling from the High Court last month. Tweets from other accounts also suggested that TalkTalk had been targeted by Anonymous, though this has not been confirmed.