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Oz gummint seeks public input on 'site block' guidelines

Agility in Canberra: ten months effort produces eight-page document

By Richard Chirgwin, 27 Apr 2016

The Australian government has decided it could do with some public input regarding the use of a controversial site-blocking law.

No, it's not the “block the pirates” law that came into force last year. Rather, it's Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, a provision that received little attention until the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) issued a request that accidentally blacked out hundreds of Websites.

The law in question puts an obligation on telecommunications carriers to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to prevent crimes. That left ASIC red-faced when, in 2013, it asked the industry to block fraud sites – but identified the sites using IP address assigned to servers hosting hundreds of innocent sites.

ASIC didn't 'fess up to its error until the following year, and that led to a government inquiry that issued its report in 2015.

Demonstrating its now-legendary agility, the government has spent ten months drafting three-and-a-half pages of guidelines, one diagram, and a reproduction of an Interpol block page.

The guidelines for the use of Section 313 are now open for public submissions here.

They lay out the authority needed to apply for a “disruption” to a service, the departmental policies and procedures agencies should follow, and how information should be provided to the public.

The guidelines say agencies should limit the disruption that follows from the use of Section 313, offers a complaint and review process, and in an oblique nod to ASIC's epic facepalm, says:

“Agencies should have the requisite level of technical expertise, or procedures for drawing on the expertise of other agencies or external experts. This will help ensure that a request is effective, responsible and executed appropriately.”

The document adds that agencies should consult with ISPs when drafting requests, just in case they're about to repeat ASIC's blunder. ®

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