The Response from Internal Affairs

Internal Affairs have responded to my request for information and I include the text of the response here (scans of the letter: page 1, page 2, page 3).

Once again I am impressed by the response and very grateful for the Official Information Act.

I will post my comments on the letter at a later date.

24 April 2009

Dear Mr Beagle

Request for Information under the Official Information Act 1982

Thank you for your email of 13 April 2009 requesting information on the website filtering trial conducted by the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs. I will answer each of your questions in turn.

1. What is the underlying technology used to implement the filter?

The system adopted by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) for its website filtering trial is known as the Netclean Whitebox. The system, which originates from Sweden, filters users’ requests via Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) and a master list of objectionable sites.

The connection to an IRSP requires 2 steps:
– A dedicated Tunnel is setup between the two locations
– A BGP session is then established.

For an ISP, this system takes only minutes to set up, requires no additional hardware, no maintenance and is virtually cost-free. The method of filtering and the location of the filter on the network has been chosen so that there is no identifiable degradation to the performance of the Internet. ISPs that have participated in the trial have expressed their satisfaction with the performance of the system.

2. What law or regulation or other legal contrivance gives Internal Affairs the authority to create and supply the content-filtering service?

The Censorship Compliance Unit of the DIA is responsible for enforcing the Film, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (the Act) – New Zealand’s censorship legislation. As the Act contains no specific legislative authority for website filtering, participation by the ISPs was on a voluntary basis.

3. How is the content-filtering service funded?

The trial was fully funded from within the operational budget of the Department’s Censorship Compliance Unit.

4. How much did the content-filtering service cost to run in 2007/08 financial year?

$3,000, plus some staff time. Please note that the software was provided free of charge for the two-year trial period.

5. What is the budget for the content-filtering service in the 2008/09 financial year?

$2,000, plus some staff time.

6. What is the projected budget (if available) for the content-filtering service for the 2009/2010 financial year?

The future implementation of the website filtering system will require an appropriation of additional funding to allow it to be offered to all ISPs. It is the convention not to release budget information prior to the Government announcements, which take place around the middle of May. I am therefore withholding this information in terms of section 9(2)(f)(iv) of the Official Information Act (to maintain the constitutional convention for the time being which protect the confidentiality of advice tendered by Ministers of the Crown and officials).

7. By what process are sites/addresses chosen and added to the list?

Over the last 4 years the Censorship Compliance Unit has developed a large database of sites offering child sexual abuse material. The Unit has become an affiliate of the CIRCAMP initiative which is initiated by the European Chief of Police Task Force and is solely aimed at combating organised criminal groups behind the commercial sexual exploitation of children. This partnership, together with the database already created by the Unit, have enabled the website filtering initiative to filter access to over 7000 sites.
Recently ECPAT NZ has launched an online reporting facility for child sexual abuse images called Child Alert to support the Department’s enforcement activity. This hotline allows members of the public to alert the Department to illegal content on the Internet and enables a fast response for illegal content originating from New Zealand. Processes have been put in place to ensure that ECPAT NZ staff do not view objectionable material.

As the filtering list is retained on a central server within the Censorship Compliance Unit, it can be maintained securely. Additional procedures have been built around the list to ensure its security and that its contents cannot change without the agreement of at least 3 warranted inspectors of publications. The list is reviewed monthly, manually, to ensure that it is up-to-date and that the possibility of false positives is removed. All sites added to the list have a report that identifies the investigating officer and what he or she saw on the site.

Additionally we also have access to the Chief Censor who is able to provide expert advice on any matter that require further clarification. As the blocking list has been compiled so that only sites that are clearly illegal are included, it is not anticipated that the operation of the system will require a high level of participation by the Chief Censor.

8. What types of content get a site/address added to the list?

Only websites that include child sexual abuse imagery or text within the definition of “objectionable” contained in section 3(2)a of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act (ie publications that promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support the exploitation of children, or young persons, or both for sexual purposes) are added to the filtering list.

9. Please send me a current copy of the list including the reasons for the inclusion of each site/address. (A digital copy in some openly available format will suffice.)

The release of the filtering list (particularly in an electronic format) would facilitate access to images of child sexual buse images. I am therefore withholding this information in terms of section 6(c) of the Official Information Act (where the release of this information is likely to prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial).

10. Which ISPs are currently using or working towards using the list to filter their Internet feeds?

The following ISPs participated in the trial programme – Watchdog, Ihug, Maxnet and TelstraClear. Telecom and Vodafone have also expressed their willingness to participate. The names of the ISPs that will implement the operational system will not be known until after the budget is announced.

11. What information is stored when a request to a website is blocked?

When a request to access a website on the filtering list is blocked the system retains the IP address of the computer from which the request originated. This information is retained for up to 30 days for system maintenance releases and then deleted.

12. What information is stored when the request is intercepted but approved?

The system has no information of requests for websites that are not on the filtering list.

Where I have decided to refuse your request for information, I have taken into considering whether reasons, that might otherwise render it desirable in the public interest to make the information available, are outweighed by the need to withhold it. Under section 28(3) of the Official Information Act 1982 you have the right to apply to the Ombudsman for a review or investigation of this decision.

Yours sincerely,
Steve O’Brien
Manager, Censorship Compliance Unit

8 Responses to “The Response from Internal Affairs”

  1. 1Ekkoboy on Jun 11, 2009 at 1:46 pm:

    A very impressive answer from the authorities, I must say. I checked a bit and the CIRCAMP group has a website if you are interested: Openness is a good thing and filtering like this is less threatening when they are transparent about it :)

  2. 2Torleif on Jul 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm:

    What a waste of tax dollars. All it will do is slow down the internet so the government can censor internet sites.

    This program mirrors the Communist Chinese program or the Communist North Korean program. The Australian filter list is 90% political sites, so you can see it’s not really there to protect the children.

    This outrages me. Why not use this money to hire a few more teachers or plant some trees.

  3. 3Nimchimpskii on Jul 12, 2009 at 1:41 pm:

    Hey, as long as it’s only child porn sites that are blocked I have no problem with it. However it’s probably going to end up sliding down the slippery slope towards more objectionable censorship.

  4. 4Oh yeah? on Jul 13, 2009 at 11:34 am:

    Torleif, can you please provide some solid evidence of your claim. And no, wikileaks comments or is not solid evidence :-) I live in a country where we have had this for many years, and our Internet is working fine. We are also able to object to authorities, state our political or religious views and generally go about our business as long as we do not crave raped children. I have never, ever been affected by this myself, and I use the Internet quite a lot, but from the news I have learned that you are shown a page with information rather than child pornography. Nothing is logged or stored, they claim, and no people has been put in jail because of this.

    All this information is according to the police authorities in my country, and you can claim that they are lying, falsifying informaton and reall are storing everything for later – but then again – you can also claim that they never reached the moon in 1969 and that the 911 events were all masterminded by the US government. You will find many who support your views, but they are not necessarily true..

    If we are ever going to have an Internet that is functional, in addition to providing warez and free porn, there is a screaming need to clean it up. Starting with the images of child pornography is a good idea. We all live under the burdon of censorship, and all the books, newspapers, TV-programs and public announcements you see every day, is subjected to the same. Does this limit the freedom of expression or the right to speak? I think not.

  5. 5Shane on Jul 13, 2009 at 4:16 pm:

    Oh yeah? I hope you don’t mean Australia as there are a number of examples of that filter blocking legitimate sites, included.

  6. 6Oh yeah? on Jul 16, 2009 at 5:49 am:

    Shane: I do not condone blocking anything other than child abuse at the moment, but I do see the need for the government to police the Internet. I do not like political views, religious vews or any other views for that matter, to be controlled – unless they promote something that, by itself, is illegal. Was or only selected articles blocked in Australia??

  7. 7puddlenuts on Feb 8, 2010 at 9:45 am:

    CP blockage, most definitely but now the systems up & running properly they are blocking more than you know.
    Try using IP changes if you are with ihug and see what happens to your interwebz experience.

  8. 8Dave on Mar 12, 2010 at 5:44 am:

    I am not opposed to this filtering of child abuse related sites; who would be? What I am finding difficult to digest is the fact that the Department of Internal Affairs has a list of over _SEVEN THOUSAND_ sites which contain child pornography/abuse or are at least purported to contain this information.

    I can’t imagine a single sysadmin on the planet who would knowingly allow sites like this to exist on his/her server(s) and I definitely can’t imagine the law enforcement in his/her respective country allowing it.

    Why should the DIA passively spend money on blocking such sites when a few e-mails would have them taken down permanently? Keep in mind that they may still to be viewed through a proxy which I imagine would be the case anyway if you were concerned about security.

    I suppose we would not have heard about this if they had only spent ‘a few staff hours’ sending e-mails rather than several thousand dollars on setting up software which in my mind is not needed.

    All that is needed for evil to exist is for good men to stand by and IP block it.