Cybersafety & Net Filtering
Environment, Communications & the Arts
Budget Estimates for 2008-09 (Supplementary hearings)
Senator LUDLAM-I would just like to bring us over to the government cybersafety plan, if there is
Ms Scott-I will just ask Mr Rizvi to come to the table, and other relevant officers.
Senator LUDLAM-We are okay to proceed?
Ms Scott-We are ready now, thank you.
Senator LUDLAM-I am just wondering whether we could start with a bit of a general overview. I note
there is a big jump in anticipated funding for 2009-10, in the order of the factor of 10, from the funding that is expected for this year. Can you give us a bit of a sense of how the scheme is progressing and how you see it rolling out over the next 24 months or so?
Mr Rizvi-The government in the 2008-09 budget allocated funding of $125.8 million over four years for its cybersafety package of measures. The measures included elements associated with education, international cooperation, law enforcement, research and also filtering. Would you like me to go into the details of the breakdown of that $125 million?
Senator LUDLAM-Maybe that would be worthwhile. I am particularly interested in the law enforcement
side and the net filtering proposal.
Mr Rizvi-In terms of law enforcement, $49.0 million over four years was allocated to the Australian
Federal Police's child protection operation's team. That would enable the team to gradually grow, and at the end of the fourth year it should have grown by something in the order of 90 AFP members. In addition, $11.3 million over four years was allocated to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for the increased activity resulting from the additional allocation to the Australian Federal Police; $44.2 million over four years for both ISP level filtering and PC level filtering; $9.9 million over four years to the Australian Communications and Media Authority to implement education and outreach activities; $4.3 million over four years to ACMA to further develop its cybersafety websites and online helpline; $800,000 over four years for a consultative working group on cybersafety; and $3.9 million over four years to the development of a youth advisory group to advise on cybersafety issues from a young person's perspective.
Senator LUDLAM-How do you qualify ‘young' in that context?
Mr Rizvi-Young in that context is under the age of 17 and around 11 and above.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you take us back to the appropriation for the filtering, which was $40
Mr Rizvi-The allocation was $44.2 million over four years.
Ms Scott-Senator, would it assist you if we give you at the end some of that detail?
Senator LUDLAM-Yes, I would appreciate that. Can we go to the internet filtering or the ‘clean feed'
internet, as it is being discussed. Can you give us a sense of that component of your budget? Where are we up to? How is that scheme progressing?
Mr Rizvi-What we have been doing is consulting with industry on the conduct of a live pilot of ISP level filtering. That follows a laboratory trial that was conducted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority on a variety of ISP filtering product. So that was a laboratory trial. It did not actually test things in terms of an actual customer. What we want to do now is test in a live environment with some ISPs who are delivering services to customers. We have been consulting on a technical testing framework for ISP filtering.
Senator LUDLAM-Consulting with whom?
Mr Rizvi-With a range of ISPs both large and small as well as the Internet Industry Association and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association. We have contracted with a testing expert group known as NX Test Laboratories, who operate out of Melbourne, who are assisting us in the design of that pilot. Only last week we had a very lengthy telephone conference with a handful of ISPs as well as the Internet Industry Association to gauge their views on the draft technical testing framework for the live pilot. Those views we have now examined closely and we will be shortly briefing the minister on the next steps with the live pilot.
Senator LUDLAM-So within the constraints of not having briefed your minister yet, how much can you
tell us about how you see that project rolling out in terms of timetables for the live trial and then what happens after that?
Mr Rizvi-At a very broad level, the purpose of the pilot is to look at two streams of potential filtering.
The first stream of filtering is in terms of just filtering the ACMA black list and different methodologies for filtering the ACMA black list. What we will seek to test is the impact of that type of filtering in terms of a range of criteria. We will also test more sophisticated types of filtering that go beyond just simply testing the ACMA black list through to filtering larger black lists and also looking at other types of filtering including dynamic filtering, filtering using key words-those sorts of methodologies-to see what the impact of that type of filtering is in terms of both the ISP and the customer.
Senator LUDLAM-So who is determining what is on these different categories of black list?
Mr Rizvi-In terms of the ACMA black list, that is determined by the Australian Communications and
Media Authority based on a list of requirements. Beyond that, what is actually filtered in using more
sophisticated tools varies quite considerably, and most of those tools enables the individual user to determine what is to be filtered.
Senator LUDLAM-I believe we are seeing ACMA a little bit later in the evening, so I suppose I can ask them about their criteria. Presumably you would have people like the AFP feeding them the criteria for the sorts of things they are trying to block. I am trying to get a sense of where ACMA is getting its-
Senator Conroy-There is a black list that exists at the moment. ACMA can you give you the full details.
One of the things we have been encouraging-and I have spoken at international forums about-is
cooperation between the various international policing authorities. This is not a problem you can solve with one jurisdiction. The internet is international. So we have been encouraging greater cooperation between law enforcement agencies across the world so that we can try, where possible, to combine black lists. That will stop us reinventing the wheel, so to speak. So different jurisdictions have a range of different black lists. They have not been coordinated at this stage. We have been trying to drive some international cooperation on that.
Senator LUDLAM-Presumably the two fronts, if you will-if you have drawn the black list up-are that
you are attempting to create software filters that will automatically block some content from leaving the ISP in the first place and you are also attempting to coordinate law enforcement agencies to go after the source and take the stuff off line. Is that right?
Senator LUDLAM-I am not trying to put words in your mouth.
Senator Conroy-No. I am just trying to think whether that totally describes it. When you say ‘block
content from leaving the ISP', this is to work with the ISPs-and that is why we have been consulting so much with them-to minimise any impact on the actual operation of the net. That is why we are going through the trials. We are going through the laboratory trial that you heard about and we are going to go down the path of a real world trial, because we have committed to consult extensively with the sector to ensure that we do not have the impact that some wild claims make.
Senator LUDLAM-To be clear, this is software that is not sitting at the client end. Where does it reside? Is it on every ISP in the country? Will every server in the country be required to host something? Where is it actually resident?
Ms Scott-It is a live trial, so the purpose is to trial a process.
Senator Conroy-You are jumping ahead of where we are actually at in the development of it.
Senator LUDLAM-I know. But, if there is any intention to establish some form of internet filtering, you
are obviously trialling some kind of model, so you have some idea.
Mr Rizvi-I think what the trial is about is to test an objective rather than to test a particular technology.
What different ISPs may come up with is different approaches to doing the filtering and achieving the
objective but there will be different technological solutions to the same objective. What we are interested in is testing a range of solutions to see what the features of the different solutions are.
Dr Pelling-And some of those solutions will be software and some of them will be hardware.
Senator Conroy-That is why I did not want to be too prescriptive when you said ‘software'.
Senator LUDLAM-Some will actually be hardware. Can you describe what that might consist of?
Dr Pelling-Typically a hardware filtering device will be a computer-sized box, for example, which will
have built into it an underlying software platform that will assess the internet stream going through it against, for example, an extensive black list or a series of categories of sites which are often developed by the service provider. They will filter the internet stream against those sites which are continually updated. When we say ‘hardware versus software', the hardware platforms would be typically an integrated platform in a small box which would be plugged in and can be customised to a certain extent.
Senator LUDLAM-I suppose I would put to you that there is a big difference between category of site
and category of content. Sites can host all sorts of things. One example that has been put to me, for example, is somebody posting an article on a controversial topic on a website and someone then leaves a comment on that website and neither the ISP nor the person who posted the original article has any control over the kinds of comments that might be added. What are the odds that the filtering software in that case is going to start knocking out content inadvertently and start returning fairly serious false positives?
Senator Conroy-Underblocking and overblocking are obviously issues. That is why we are engaged in
conversation with the sector about it-to specifically try to minimise this sort of impact.
Senator LUDLAM-So what are your benchmarks or what is acceptable?
Senator Conroy-We are just at the very early stages. You are actually jumping ahead. I can understand that if you have been reading some of the wild and-
Senator LUDLAM-Some of it is not so wild, Minister.
Senator Conroy-enthusiastic commentary that I keep seeing both in blogs and in the media. But we are actually only in the early stages and we have committed to consult with the sector to work through these very issues. We have not set some of those benchmarks. What we are seeing is what is the impact, but we have not said, ‘Right, three per cent is acceptable and seven per cent is not acceptable.' We actually have not done that.
Senator LUDLAM-Okay, so there are no benchmarks yet. Are there any countries around the world
where this has been tried, where this is actually being attempted?
Mr Rizvi-There are a number of countries around the world where some degree of filtering is utilised.
Senator LUDLAM-China for example?
Mr Rizvi-No. Actually, China was not one that I had in mind. I had more the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands in mind as examples of countries where some level of filtering has been introduced. Predominantly the filtering that has been introduced there is similar to that first stream of filtering that I described-that is, filtering what is known as the equivalent of the ACMA black list, which is at the moment predominantly child pornography sites.
As the minister mentioned, he has been consulting with a number of these countries about the idea of sharing these black lists so that we can take advantage of the economies that that might deliver us. ACMA has been consulting in particular with the United States and the United Kingdom about sharing websites, and they are making good progress in that regard. That would enable a more efficient management of the equivalent of the ACMA black list for Australia. Most Western countries that have introduced filtering have been focusing on the equivalent of the ACMA black list.
Senator Conroy-Just to indicate the countries that have implemented along the lines that Abul is talking about include Sweden, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. This is not some one-off excursion.
Senator LUDLAM-I understand that.
Senator Conroy-They have different parameters and we have not set any parameters at this stage. We are going through that process.
Senator LUDLAM-Of those countries that you have named, I am not expecting that they are all identical
in form, because I understand that your proposal is not opt in or opt out. It will be mandatory content blocking across all Australian ISPs.
Senator Conroy-We are-
Senator LUDLAM-Just let me finish. In terms of the countries that you have just listed for me, it is
mandatory or is it an opt-in system that, for example, concerned parents could take advantage of?
Senator Conroy-Illegal material is illegal material. Child pornography is child pornography. I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography.
Senator LUDLAM-No. That is why I was interested in asking about the law enforcement side of it as
Senator Conroy-No, we are working both angles at it. We are just trying to use technology to enforce the existing laws.
Senator LUDLAM-I am just wondering if I can put these questions to you without being accused of
being pro child pornography. That would assist.
Senator Conroy-I was wondering if I could get the questions without being accused of being the Great
Wall of China.
Senator LUDLAM-I have not-
Senator Conroy-Oh, okay. As long as you are allowed to have value in your questions I will have no
value in my answers.
Senator LUDLAM-All right. Let us pursue this and see where it goes. I did put a question to you. In
terms of the other countries that you have just listed for us, is the content blocking mandatory or is it an opt-in, opt-out system in those countries?
Senator Conroy-We are talking about mandatory blocking, where possible, of illegal material-illegal
Senator LUDLAM-I understand that. And in the other countries?
Senator Conroy-We are looking at the opt-out provision. It depends on which way you are looking at it.
It can mean the opposite to what it sounds like, so it does get a little confusing. But in terms of the policy, what we are investigating is whether it is possible to ensure that people can opt out of an ISP filter if they wanted to look at material that is legal as opposed to not allowing an opt out for material that is illegal.
Senator LUDLAM-I am not sure if that was a double negative or not.
Senator Conroy-Yes. As I said, it gets-
Senator LUDLAM-And I am not sure whether this issue has been misreported or not, but the way that
this issue has been reported in some sources is that the government has decided that there will be two layers-that you can opt out of the deadly illegal stuff or the category B list, or however we want to define it, but that there will not be any other choices other than those two. So I am interested to know whether that has been misreported, whether you have come to the final decision-
Senator Conroy-No. As I said, we are in the early stages. But we are looking at two tiers-mandatory of illegal material and an option for families to get a clean feed service if they wish.
Senator LUDLAM-And an option for an opt out of-
Senator Conroy-Yes, that is what an option means. It means if you want to opt out, then you can continue to look here. But families can get a clean feed and if people want to opt out of the clean feed then they can. That is actually our policy as opposed to what probably you have read.
Senator LUDLAM-Okay. That is very interesting. Will you be publishing benchmarks as opposed to just going back to the thresholds that you will be adopting for underblocking and overblocking?
Senator Conroy-As I said, we are at the early stages. We have not made any decisions along those lines, so we are taking it step by step. This is a complex issue. Notwithstanding some of the commentary that borders on hysterical at times that you have possibly seen, we are just slowly and methodically working our way through and gathering information through this trial.
Senator LUDLAM-Some of the comments that I have seen did not approach hysterical at all. I think
there have been some quite well thought through concerns.
Senator Conroy-I am sure I have unfortunately probably seen a wider range of commentary than you
have, Senator Ludlam.
Senator LUDLAM-You probably have. I will hand you back to the chair in a moment, but can I just go
back to my earlier question. In terms of the countries that you are modelling the scheme on that you listed for us before, is internet filtering mandatory in those countries or is it opt in, opt out?
Mr Rizvi-The situation across the countries actually varies quite considerably, Senator. The situation in the United Kingdom, for example, is that a range of ISPs have introduced black list filtering-that is, the filtering of their equivalent of the ACMA black list. In respect of that filtering in the United Kingdom, the consumer does not have the option of opting out. They get an ISP feed which has those illegal sites filtered out. What is different there is the ISPs that are participating-and it is in fact now in the United Kingdom that the majority of the large ISPs are participating-on a voluntary basis rather than on a legislated basis.
Senator LUDLAM-I will take you back to the chair, but can you just tell me whether, in terms of
discussing finishing up where we started, who is going to be determining what is on these black lists. Is that a question to you, Minister, to the department, to the AFP or to ACMA?
Senator Conroy-As I said, we are enforcing current law and ACMA determine this based on the existing law. So we are happy to have a chat with them. I think they are coming up next as you have indicated, so you can have a chat with them about how they go about determining it. But the general sort of stuff that we are talking about is child porn and they are the sorts of sites that we are targeting. We do not believe that you should be able to opt in to child porn. I am sure you do not either.
Senator LUDLAM-What about, for another controversial example, euthanasia related material?
Senator Conroy-You would have to ask them whether that falls within their definition. There are calls for, as an example, banning pro anorexia websites. Again, it falls into that sort of category. So there are calls for a whole range of material to be included in the black list, but I do not think that they fall inside the existing definitions under the law. I do not think that they are caught.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you then see the basis on which some people might be raising concerns that once we have such a list it can go from being a black list to a very grey list very quickly, depending on how much the government thinks should be filtered. It is almost reversing the burden of proof, which is a very different approach to sending law enforcement agencies after people who are posting-
Senator Conroy-I do not agree with the basis of your assertion that we have-
Senator LUDLAM-You have not heard the assertion.
Senator Conroy-You said it basically reverses the onus of proof. I do not agree.
Mr Rizvi-The ACMA black list has been around for quite a number of years now. It is not a new list.
Senator LUDLAM-I suppose what is new is having complicated automated software deciding what
Australians can and cannot see on the net. The black list, as the minister is rightly pointing out, can become very grey depending on how expansive the list becomes-euthanasia material, politically related material, material about anorexia. There is a lot of distasteful stuff on the internet.
Senator Conroy-Existing provisions under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 are able to deal with
suicide related material that provides detailed instruction or promotion of matters of crime or violence. It is an existing law.
Ms P. Scott-Chair, I wonder whether this is an appropriate time to table the overview with details that we volunteered to provide earlier, where Mr Rizvi had read through a number of criteria relating to the funding that might assist the senators in their further questioning of other agencies.
Senator MINCHIN-On cybersafety, you have referred to a number of other countries that are adopting
this ISP filter approach. What, if any, evidence is available from those jurisdictions with respect to the impact on internet speeds of their filtering?
Senator Conroy-They closed the internet in the UK a while back, if you believe the publicity.
Senator MINCHIN-I appreciate that is one of the allegations made. I want to go to the evidence.
Mr Rizvi-The discussions that we have had with the United Kingdom people who have been providing
the clean feed there is that, in their view, the impact on internet speeds has been negligible-unnoticeable to the user.
Senator MINCHIN-That is what you would anticipate here. You have no reason to believe there would
be any other-
Senator Conroy-That is why we are going through the testing process.
Senator MINCHIN-Where does the 30 per cent figure I hear come from?
Senator Conroy-I think there was a former minister who liked to champion it extensively. If you set out to design a filter that wants to cripple the speed of your computer, you can do it. Let us be clear: you can definitely do it if you want to. That is why we are not setting out to do that. That is why we are working with the sector to try to ensure that this is a workable policy in the real world as opposed to a theoretical debate around a table.
Senator MINCHIN-Fair enough.
Senator Conroy-Can I come back to Senator Ludlam's comment about euthanasia. I was halfway through a sentence in the Broadcasting Services Act. The sort of material I described would be refused classification currently and regarded as prohibited content now. That is what I described before. I am happy to repeat that.
Senator LUDLAM-Have we got time for one more question?
CHAIR-You can have one more question and then Senator Parry will have a turn.
Senator LUDLAM-Do you want to read that again?
Senator Conroy-I am happy to do that.
Existing provisions under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 are able to deal with suicide related material that provides detailed instruction or promotion of matters of crime or violence, and such material would be refused classification and regarded as prohibited content currently.
You might want to ask for the interpretation of that when ACMA comes to the table. That is the existing law. If you want to argue for changes in the existing law around euthanasia-I know many have-then that is a worthy debate and we should have it.
Senator LUDLAM-Probably not here. That was not the point, I suppose. It is just an example of that kind of grey area. I believe with a few minutes online you could probably find that kind of material whether it has been declared illegal in Australia or not. Is it the intention of the government to have that material become unavailable?
Senator Conroy-We would be enforcing the existing laws. If investigated material is found to be
prohibited content then ACMA may order it to be taken down if it is hosted in Australia. They are the existing laws at the moment.