Whistle-blower site Wikileaks has published what it claims to be the government's blacklist of banned websites, but experts warn banning these sites won't prevent child pornography.
The publication of the list has been condemned as "irresponsible" by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, who said while it had some sites in common that "this is not the ACMA blacklist".
The list has been planned as a key element of the government's mandatory ISP-filtering scheme, which would see all ISPs blocking attempts to access pages on the list if current trials are deemed successful.
Internet freedom group Electronic Frontiers Australia has hailed the leak as "a wake-up call for Australians concerned about secret censorship".
"The leaking of the list has confirmed some of our worst fears," said EFA vice-chair Colin Jacobs. "This was bound to happen, especially as mandatory filtering would require the list to be distributed to ISPs all around the country. The government is now in the unenviable business of compiling and distributing a list which includes salacious and illegal material and publicising those very sites to the world."
EFA said the list contained surprising additions such as YouTube videos, a MySpace profile, online poker parlours and a site containing poison information, as well as harmless sites such as that of a tour operator.
The list that has been posted contains 2,395 web pages derived from ACMA's list of banned URLs, which are used by government-endorsed filter makers, which are installed on a voluntary basis by parents.
"Now that we have seen the list, it is clearly not the perfect weapon against child abuse it has been made out to be," said Jacobs. "Many of the sites clearly contain only run-of-the-mill adult material, poker tips or nothing controversial at all. Even if some of these sites may have been defaced at the time they were added to the list, how would the operators get their sites removed if the list is secret and no appeal is possible?"
The anonymous posters have justified the release of the list as a protest against the Australian Communications and Media Authority's (ACMA) threat to fine people AU$11,000 a day for linking to sites that have been included on its secret list.
Last week The Australian had reported that ACMA had issued an "interim link-deletion notice" to online telecommunications industry forum Whirlpool's host, Bulletproof Networks, after a member of the forum had posted a link which was on its blacklist. The notice gave Bulletproof Networks 24 hours to respond with a threat that non-compliance would result in hefty fines.
"While Wikileaks is used to exposing secret government censorship in developing countries, we now find Australia acting like a democratic backwater," the group states on the ACMA blacklist page that was posted on Wikileaks.
"This week saw Australia joining China and the United Arab Emirates as the only countries censoring Wikileaks. We were not notified by ACMA," the group wrote, referring to a claimed decision by the Federal Government to ban access to Wikileaks.
While some arguments for the mandatory filtering scheme have been based on the premise that child sex offenders should be stopped from accessing child porn from within Australia, the group which posted the list on Wikileaks has argued such blacklists are "dangerous to 'above ground' activities such as political discourse, [but] they have little effect on the production of child pornography". They have also provided a link to an alleged insider's account on the subject of censorship and the crime.