Tag Archive for "OIA"

OIA Bait

I was looking at the just released consultation document on Regulations and Codes of Practice for the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Funding of Terrorism Act.

They ask for submissions and add the following:

The Ministry of Justice does not intend to publish comment that it receives on this document. However any comment will be subject to the Official Information Act 1982 and may, therefore, be released in part or full.

This makes me feel like requesting all the submissions and publishing them (as Tech Liberty did for the ACTA submissions) just on general principle. Maybe if we keep doing that they’ll finally realise that it just makes more sense to publish the submissions themselves.

Archives Educates the DIA

Back in August I posted about how the Department of Internal Affairs had been deleting the reports used to justify filtering sites in the trial. This seemed a bit suspect to me, especially as they knew I had a request with the Ombudsman appealing their refusal to give me copies of them under the Official Information Act.

It’s also in contravention of the Public Records Act so I sent a letter asking the Chief Archivist what could be done about it. You can download the PDF of their reply, but the gist of it is in the following quote:

The Department of Internal Affairs report that they have taken steps to address this problem. The Department of Internal Affairs have made their staff familiar with the mandatory standards issued by the Chief Archivist that are relevant to managing these records in accordance with the Public Records Act 2005. Steps have also been taken to ensure that website filtering records cannot be deleted without seeking the necessary authority to do so.

I consider that these are appropriate remedial steps that will result in ongoing compliance with the Act.

I’m sure we can all be pleased that the Censorship Unit at the DIA will now do a better job of maintaining their data.

$150k for internet filtering software

The Department of Internal Affairs have responded to my questions about the $611,000 allocated for Censorship Enforcement Activity in the 2009/2010 budget.

Firstly, they confirm that the money is provided for each of the next four years.

Secondly, they talk about the increased cost of tracking down and prosecuting people for the possession and distribution of child sex abuse images.

Thirdly, and of most interest to me, there is a one-off capital contribution of $150,000 to the purchase of the software used in the internet filtering they intend to introduce this year.

The relevant section from the letter:

As you are aware, the Department’s compliance activity for 2009/2010 includes the implementation of a website filtering system for New Zealand. To date the development and operation of the trial system has been met from within the existing budget. Budget 2009 provides for a one-off capital contribution of $150,000 for the purchase of the software on which the filtering system is based.

Links to (not very good) scans of page 1 and page 2 of the letter.

Internal Affairs to Continue Netfiltering Trial

In the Internal Affairs Statement of Intent for 2009-2012 we find that they identify three outcomes where they “wish to make an impact as a department”. These are:

  1. Strong, sustainable communities/hapu/iwi
  2. New Zealand’s approach to identity is trusted and well led
  3. Safer communities which is further split into three including “People are protected from spam and objectionable material”

This is then extended on and added to in a number of places throughout the document. Some excerpts:

The Government has a strong focus on crime and making communities safe. Criminals are increasingly using the internet to engage in activities that put individuals and business at risk. The Department is focused on making communities safer by creating an environment in which people are protected from spam and objectionable material. The Department will continue to work in partnership with other agencies and use technology to detect and prosecute offenders.

As New Zealanders have one of the highest rates of computer usage in the world, we experience relatively high availability of, and exposure to, objectionable material. Increasing speed of access (eg, through broadband) also increases potential exposure to harmful material. Rapid development of technology creates risks and opportunities in the censorship area and underlines the need for us to maintain strong international networks. Offenders take advantage of the relative anonymity and security the Internet and new technology offer. The most recent significant development in Internet offending is the ability to share large numbers of publications through peer-to-peer applications. This creates challenges due to the volume of material and the fact that the identities of the users are not readily detectable.

Then we finally see what they intend to do:

Some of our key initiatives for 2009–12 are to:

  • review the New Zealand child pornography risk profile to enable more targeted investigations
  • continue to develop software applications to ensure investigation and enforcement in the censorship area remains effective against offenders’ ever-evolving methods of evading detection.
  • continue to trial website filtering to assist in preventing New Zealanders from gaining access to websites containing objectionable material. This will restrict website hits and consequently diminish revenue to criminals.

So, in summary, there are no major changes in approach signaled by the budget, although there is that extra $611,000 of funding that will be used in this area.

Update – see article confirming that they have moved past a trial and are now actually paying for the system.

Censorship Enforcement Activity

There wasn’t a lot of detail about the Department of Internal Affairs in the 2009 budget. There was one entry for a possibly relevant new initiative, however:

  • Censorship Enforcement Activity – $611,000

I wonder if this is what they were referring to in their letter to me:

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).

Time to find out.

Comment on the IA Response

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.

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.

Continue Reading “The Response from Internal Affairs” »

Government Censorship of the Internet

The Internal Affairs department in New Zealand is currently running an internet filtering scheme. They choose which sites to block and then publish a list that ISPs can use to block access to them.

It’s a voluntary scheme and ISPs don’t have to use it. It is known that Telstra Clear does use it.

I have seen claims that it’s only for the worst forms of child pornography.

I expect that once the scheme is proven to work:

      It will not stay voluntary.
      It will be extended to other forms of material.

I would like to know more about it, and therefore:

Dear Internal Affairs,

I understand that Internal Affairs is running a voluntary “clean feed” Internet content filtering project in conjunction with a number of ISPs including Telstra Clear.

Under the Official Information Act I would like the following information about this project:

1. What is the underlying technology used to implement the filter?
2. What law or regulation or other legal contrivance gives Internal Affairs the authority to create and supply the content-filtering service?
3. How is the content-filtering service funded?
4. How much did the content-filtering service cost to run in the 2007/2008 financial year?
5. What is the budget for the content-filtering service in the 2008/2009 financial year?
6. What is the projected budget (if available) for the content-filtering service for the 2009/2010 financial year?
7. By what process are sites/addresses chosen and added to the list?
8. What types of content get a site/address added to the 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.)
10. Which ISPs are currently using or working towards using the list to filter their Internet feeds?
11. What information is stored when a request to a site is blocked?
12. What information is stored when the request is intercepted but approved?

Yours faithfully,

Thomas Beagle