DIA’s Draft Code of Practice

The Department of Internal Affairs has released a draft Code of Practice for the operation of their Internet filtering scheme.

The Code of Practice provides a good overview of how the system works and explains the policies that the DIA will use to manage the list. None of it should be a surprise to anyone who has read the FAQs and other articles on this website.

Rather than rehash the arguments for or against the filtering (although it is amusing to note that the Code admits a number of the shortcomings with the system), I’d rather write about their proposal for an Independent Reference Group that they have included in the draft Code.

The Department will institute an Independent Reference Group (IRG) to maintain oversight of the operation of the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System to ensure it is operated with integrity and adheres to the principles set down in this Code of Practice.

That reads well enough but finding out what the IRG will actually do is a bit tricker. The first reference to them is in relation to people appealing decisions to block particular sites: “The appeals submitted and the actions taken will be reported to the IRG. The reports will be published on the Department’s website.”

The second is merely about reviewing the Code of Practice: “The Department, in conjunction with the IRG, will review the Code after 12 months operation. ”

The first major omission in the Code is the method by which the members of the IRG are going to be selected. We need to know that to get some idea of just how Independent the RG will be.

Secondly, there is no real guidance to the workings of the IRG. How often will they meet? What powers will they have? What happens if there is a disagreement between the DIA and the IRG about the inclusion of a particular site?

Thirdly, note that the IRG still has to rely on the DIA as they’re the ones that judge any appeals. The IRG only sees the report of the DIA’s inspector. Is the IRG going to be able to anything more than say “The DIA told us that they’re doing everything correctly”?

Overall, I’m not sure if the IRG really adds much to the need for openness and transparency. Once again the DIA’s desire to keep the filter list secret ends in the inevitable “you have to trust us”, except that this time we have to trust the IRG who has to trust the DIA.

Naturally I’ll be making a submission.