New Zealand’s Web Filter

The New Zealand Government has apparently already been blocking access to some child porn sites, and are now expanding the budget to filter more sites:

The Government is spending $150,000 on website “filtering” software, outraging some bloggers who say the move amounts to censorship of the internet.

Since 2007 the Department of Internal Affairs’ Censorship Compliance Unit has worked with a small group of internet service providers on a “trial” project to block access to websites distributing child pornography.

The project, using hardware and software supplied by a Swedish technology company, thwarts access to more than 7000 websites known to offer child sexual abuse material.

If computer users subscribed to the ISPs involved in the trial – which now include TelstraClear, ihug, Watchdog and Maxnet – attempt to access sites on the DIA’s blacklist they are re-directed to a message explaining the site has been blocked.

Until now the DIA’s filtering project has been run on a shoestring Budget of $2000 or $3000 a year, but the department won $150,000 in this year’s Budget to buy software to expand the system beyond a trial. The money was part of a $661,000 Budget increase for “censorship enforcement activity”. (…)

In his blog, Beagle wrote he was concerned there was no “external oversight” of websites added to the department’s blacklist.

“It is being implemented in a very ‘under the radar’ way so as to avoid the fuss that has been raised in other countries such as Australia,” he said.

“If we are going to implement internet filtering I believe it should be done openly and through law.”

Beagle also said the filtering scheme was not very effective because it relied on DIA staff manually adding websites to be filtered and it was “relatively easy for motivated users to circumvent” the filtering process.

Mauricio Freitas, the Wellington-based founder of popular technology website Geekzone, also blogged about his concerns there was no oversight to the filtering process, meaning it could be extended beyond blocking child porn sites.

“[T]here isn’t a publicly available list of blacklisted websites, and no guarantees that a secret meeting between government agencies wouldn’t in the future add other ‘categories’ to this list,” he said.

Indeed. Giving the state new technical powers of repression, even if they promise not to use them for evil now, is always dangerous. We’re never more than one good panic away from totalitarianism. I would be willing to bet at even odds that,  if continued, the project will be used to block non-child porn sites at some point over the next decade.

2 Responses

  1. In a way, internet censorship iseems a little less dangerous than other types because it’s pretty easy to pick up – you notice it when you try to go to a website and you’re stopped. Compare this with media censorship say, where it’s more of a censorship of forced omission or bias, and so a lot harder for the reader to observe.

    That doesn’t mean it’s not bad though of course.

  2. Brad, I’m sure you’ve read about the similar disastrous policy that Stephen Conroy is championing here in Aus. Internet censorship has never been about preventing people from getting access to this kind of material, rather, it’s all about limiting our freedoms of information, communication and expression.

    Politicians will use every fallacy under the sun to get these kinds of laws passed..

    “Won’t somebody PLEASE think about the children?!!”

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