I have now reviewed the response from Internal Affairs about their internet-filtering scheme.
Overall, it looks like a reasonable attempt to create a system that will efficiently and fairly block people from viewing illegal material on the Internet. The process for adding sites looks reasonably robust and, assuming they are doing what they’re saying, the sites are reviewed monthly.
I do have a number of issues with the system, including:
- the system can only block based on internet address (IP address). It is common to have multiple websites on one IP address, but the internet-filtering system will block access to all of them even if only one of them is hosting objectionable material.
- the list is being kept secret and therefore people cannot check to see that the system is not being abused (as was found to be the case in Australia recently). I contrast this with the activities of New Zealand’s Chief Censor who publishes a publicly accessible database listing the material that has been banned.
My more serious concern is that I see that this is a “softly-softly” first step to implementing mandatory censorship of the Internet. Not many people are prepared to defend access to child pornography and, after all, the scheme is only voluntary. However, “objectionable” material includes many categories other than child abuse and I do not expect the voluntary nature of the scheme to remain that way (either through legal mandate or other pressures). As the scheme expands I believe there will be more potential for abuse and the deliberate blocking of legitimate material.
I am now following up some of the issues raised with Internal Affairs, the Minister, and the Chief Censor.
I have also asked the Chief Ombudsmand for comment on the Department’s withholding of the list of banned sites.