Senator Scott Ludlam

Australian Senate told government agencies have been blocking websites since at least 2004

Government agencies such as the Australian Federal Police and ASIC have been blocking websites since at least 2004 with no oversight a Senate hearing on the 30th May 2013 was told. Until last week I had not heard of section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, which is what is being used to block websites by at least three government agencies without the need for a warrant from a judicial officer.

The same Senate hearing was told that the Federal Police have also been obtaining phone records using section 178, 179 and 180 of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act and once again without the need for a warrant.

For example in 2010-11 there were 50,841 requests for phone records by the AFP from service providers and in 2011-12 it was 43362. The AFP requests sometimes also include  details of IP addresses etc.

This is similar to the NSA Prism program that has been revealed in the last week where the US Government has been caught mining data from the likes of Google, Facebook and telecommunication companies. They have been doing this on a global basis which most likely affects Australians as well. (Click here to read more) The NSA Prism program whistleblower Edward Snowden is now on the run in Hong Kong. In the video below Edward Norton says why he decided to blow the whistle.


The video can also be watched by clicking here.

WikiLeaks have covered this fairly well:

“And what of Australia?”

“Under Australian Commonwealth, state and territory laws, police and security agencies currently have access to data about which Internet sites you have been looking at, who you are calling and who is calling you, where you are located when using your phone or accessing your email account.”

“This information can be gathered without the need for agencies such as ASIO, the Federal Police or state and territory police getting a search warrant from a judicial officer. All that is required is for a senior officer of those organisations to give permission.” (Click here to read more)

Blocking internet sites

Senator LUDLAM: I will explain the context, but in a moment. I have been referred here by another agency who refused to answer a question and said I should talk to the Attorney-General’s Department. But let us come back to it and it might be disclosed as we go. Commissioner, the Federal Police uses Section 313 notices under the Telecommunications Act to compel internet service providers to knock out a subset of content listed by Interpol—their so called ‘worst of’ list—and maybe you want to just track back for us the history of when you first started issuing those, and how you think that process is going.

Mr Negus: Thank you for the question, I will again pass to Deputy Commission Phelan, who is in charge of our high-tech crime operations area, which monitors these things.

Mr Phelan: The information that I have here is that the first time we started to issue 313 notices specifically in relation to blocking websites was in relation to the Interpol ‘worst of’ list on 24 June 2011.

Senator LUDLAM: To your knowledge, has the AFP used that section or powers authorised by that section of the act in that way before to knock content out of websites?

Mr Phelan: Yes, we have. Previously, we have used section 313 as part of the mitigation strategies from the joint banking and finance team within the Australian high-tech crime centre. That commenced in about May of 2004. Those were traditionally used to block foreign IPs hosting muling, phishing and other malware sites.

And further on where it becomes almost comical:

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I am familiar with that. ASIC is using these notices to knock out certain categories of sites and there is an overblocking instance. There is one other agency—I was just told before by the minister for communications—within the Attorney-General’s portfolio also using these notices. Could somebody at the table illuminate me as to who that is?

Mr Wilkins: Sorry, we do not comment on national security matters, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: So it is a national security agency?

Mr Wilkins: We do not comment on those matters.

Senator LUDLAM: So it is a national security agency?

Mr Wilkins: We do not comment on those matters, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: You are commenting. You just told me it is a national security matter.

Senator Ludwig: No, he said that he was not commenting on it.

Senator LUDLAM: I did not ask whether it was national security. Somebody within the Attorney-General’s portfolio, which is significantly broader than national security, is using section 313 notices to knock content off the web.

Mr Wilkins: It is a national security matter. We are not commenting on it, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: That has been very useful. Thank you, Mr Wilkins. So, back to the AFP. ASIC and one other national security agency is using these notices to knock out particular categories of content. I will not comment on this agency, which will not be named for some reason, but as far as ASIC is concerned, this content is unlawful and is therefore being knocked out for that reason. Does the AFP consider the use of these notices for other forms of unlawful content, whether it be for copyright infringement, or take a pick of all sorts of material, that these notices would be used to take that content out, and if not, why not?

Mr Phelan: The short answer is no. We do not have plans.

The full transcript can be read on the parliament website by clicking here. In the transcript it is Senator Xenophon who asks the questions about the AFP obtaining phone records.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)

ASIC used a section 313 notice to block a website that was allegedly being used for fraud in April 2013.

“The federal government has been accused of sneaking mandatory web filtering through the back door after one of its agencies inadvertently blocked 1200 websites using a little-known law.”

“ASIC caused the blocking by giving ISPs the IP address of the shared server the websites were hosted on, rather than disclosing the allegedly fraudulent website’s domain name, which would have resulted in only blocking it and not other websites.”

“At the time, Dr Mark Gregory, senior lecturer at RMIT University’s school of electrical and computer engineering, wrote on The Conversation that the decision “may have inadvertently opened  the door for unlimited government and police control of the internet”.” (Click here to read more)

Open to Abuse

Last year “Following years of debate about trying to censor the internet, the   Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the government would no  longer  proceed with ”mandatory filtering legislation”.” (Click here to read more)

Yet the government seems to have achieved internet filtering through the back door with section 313 notices and had been doing so for a number of years. So why was the government trying to bring in mandatory filtering legislation when they already could block websites. One has to surmise the government wanted to block a lot of sites, not just ones acting illegally, which the section 313 notices would not cover.

Here is a scenario to think about where abuse could take place. I wrote a post highly critical of Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus a couple of weeks ago titled “AFP Commissioner Tony Negus caught bullying and bastardising a second whistleblower”  (Click here to readMr Negus decides he wants it blocked in Canberra where he lives. So he sends section 313 notices to the service providers in Canberra such as who are one of the biggest ISP’s in Canberra if not the biggest. So when people do internet searches and come up with my post they cannot access it and therefor bad media coverage of Mr Negus is reduced. Who would know? Only two or three people.

I have used my post as an example but there is plenty of other instances of bad press for Mr Negus and the AFP. I am not saying that Mr Negus has or would do it, but it is almost guaranteed it would cross his mind when he gets bad press. As it would for people at ASIC and other government departments such as the mystery “national security agency” Senator Ludlam asked about in the above transcript. And how many politicians might decide to put pressure on the federal police to block sites they do not like?

This could and should be an election issue and there needs to be an inquiry into exactly what the Federal Police and other agencies have been up to. Exactly which sites have they blocked and why would be a good place to start. If section 313 notices are not being abused now they will be in the future if left unchecked.

The internet is the great equalizer that gives everyone a voice. When freedom of the internet comes under attack it should be of great concern for all.

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27 replies »

  1. I Have no objections to the authorities using cotraversial methods to try to curb terrorism but censoring internet on the social network is just the encumbent governments way of covering their rear-ends. Allan from Myalup WA

  2. An old but very true say
    “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
    This just smacks of it

  3. Of course they have to monitor these sites. It stands to reason that terrorist or anarchist groups would use these sites to communicate. The so-called “whistle-blower” is really a pedant. Of what value is his “whistle-blowing”. How do people think they have the right to decide what is or is not national security?
    I really could give a hoot if the government is monitoring the websites I visit. It’s not as if every single person in the world who visits any website suddenly has the riot police at their door.
    Get a grip, people. This is just a moron with a mental problem…and he wants us along for the ride. No thanks.
    Just look at the idiot from Wikileaks. What a moron. We really need more of them?

    • You say “How do people think they have the right to decide what is or is not national security?” Exactly. We know the Australian Federal Police are corrupt so they should not be deciding that on such a massive and broad scale without a warrant.

    • Perhaps you have not been abused by the corrupt people that perennially misrules Australia, denied access to your children for many years, been subject to surveillance, and arbitrary search and arrest (without warrant) by the AFP?
      If you had, brother, you would change your mind on the issue.

      • What are you talking about?
        Why have you been “abused by the corrupt people that perennially misrules Australia”?
        Why have you “been denied access to your children for years”? Why have you been “subject to surveillance and arbitrary search and arrest (without warrant) by the AFP”?
        If you can answer these questions, then we can have an honest and intelligent discussion.

      • “We know the Australian Federal Police are corrupt”. It’s an arbitrary statement with no proof of fact.
        Do you mean every, single one of them is corrupt? They are corrupt by virtue that you don’t like them?
        I don’t know what kind of people use this site, but I know for a fact that the AFP have never, never, never come anywhere near me.
        I assume they do their work under circumstances that are nebulous,and secretive but why exactly should you fear them, Shane?
        You do a wonderful job on this site Shane, don’t ruin it by becoming a conspiracy theorist.
        That we should be diligent to what our government and its agencies are doing with our tax dollars is one thing but you don’t actually agree with this idiot, so called “whistleblower”, do you?
        Look at Assange – a more self-indulgent, self-serving, corrupt and criminal individual would be hard to find….then along comes this PRISM “whistleblower” idiot.
        God forbid.

    • Does it not occur to you that some Governments are misusing this system? the US continues to misuse it. Australia is also following that path. Whistleblowers must expose the wrongs of so called democratic countries.

    • In reply to luisadownunder.
      This comment of yours is so stupid that I have to wonder if you are a shill working for them. Your attitude to the “whistleblower” smacks of the FOX News approach to discrediting someone. You are spouting propaganda, not contributing to any debate.

      • you are right paul, luisadownunder’s intentions are quite clear. especially the way in which she hammers both assange and snowden. like seriously… who on earth would complain about the gross violation of our civil rights and the level to which we are being spied upon, and then condemn the people who exposed it all?

  4. Your “other national security agency” is most likely DSD (Defence Signals Directorate/Dept – whatever they are called these days) which is the Australian equivalent of NSA, Britain’s GCHQ etc. These guys are absolutely vital to our national security, and this idiot whistleblower has let nothing new out of the bag (as per the above post about Echelon – which has been ongoing for decades). He is only a low level, outsourced operator and has no idea of the value of signals intelligence and the vital role it plays in our national defence.

    • Our National Defence lets boat people in the back door. I think these guys are more scared of honest citizens than so called terrorists

  5. it is getting all very big brother “stuff” – had a feeling it was happening – daresay the matter has become even bigger now with digital newspapers etc – scary!

  6. I paid for my computer, I pay a server on a monthly basis for Internet access, which is available 24/7, I will visit any site I choose at any time, send and receive email and converse with other people via microphone and web cam.
    I strongly agree that no-one from any agency, government or other authority, or anyone has the right to access my property, electronic or otherwise, without my authority.
    The act of accessing my electronic property is no different to some-one forcing their way into my home, or opening my mail without my consent.
    ‘Big Brother’ should revert to being ‘Little Servant’.

    • Dear Oh Dear,
      The reported activities of authoritarian governments is a disaster. Every peson who provides professional service/s advice etc.,is now aware and on notice that the governments are liars (now official!) and have been peaking in ALL our bedroom cupboards for years despite all manner of disclaimers and claims at the bottom of messages, including in profesional privileged communications.
      To protect such correspondenec it now seems apparent, that, being on notice, that it may give grounds for an action of professional negligence by a client aganst the advisor or service provider if ‘leaked’ information reaches unauthorised persons. e.g. look up the role of vesiron (sp?) in the US, being a non US owned and controlled company. Clearly blackmail has and is used to compromise, threaten and manipulate persons who may be significant for some matter, especially in regard to government policies.
      Australian privacy and other laws are irrelevant to foreign jurisdictions and interests.
      It would seem that such correspondence should either be encrypted, which is not failsafe, or we should revert back to the postal and delivery services.
      The professional insurers and professional bodies have a duty to provide some guildance in this disaster ….clearly the politicians will merely do as they are told by the spooks and spivs as most are compromised already in some way.

  7. THE Australian Securities and Investment Commission has called for phone call and internet data to be made available for its war on white-collar crime.

    Not only does the authority want the powers to intercept the times, dates and details of telecommunications information, it also wants access to the contents of emails, social media chats and text messages.

    This is more power than the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation have sought to investigate terrorism and suspected murderers.

    Read more:

  8. There should be far more whistleblowers and Wikileak organisations – it is about time that all of the over sensitive politicians and “secret police” were hauled over the coals and made to account for their paranoid, self indulgent actions…..what a joke they all are.
    Bring on the election and bury the them!

  9. It really starting to worry me when people and government think its OK to spy or censer a population .I think i should remind you all the number one killer of humans in the world has been Government (Democide) Not terrorist Not anarchist.
    Some countries started off the same way spying/censoring on there population and i think we all no what happen after that.
    As Shane said the internet gives everybody a voice so they can have the freedom to be heard we are all different we all don’t agree on a lot of things but that’s not a reason to filter the internet or collect meta data(spying).

    • “Some countries started off the same way……”
      Could you be referring to Nazi Germany, the Soviet Republic, the Stasi of East Germany, as examples?
      Welcome the ‘free’ West to your future.
      Unless we pull our fingers out and put it on Abbott, Bishop, Joyce, Milne, Turnbull, Rudd and the rest to proclaim that Australia is a free country and foreign spying can go jump. We are sick of this concocted war on terrorism and the false flag scenarios and the international psycho control freaks.
      We wish to live in peace and not be the Global corporate’s whore, going killing and invading.


    “………NSA acts like a virtual «state within a state». The director of NSA, a four-star flag officer, also wears the hat of Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, the chief cyber-warfare echelon within the Department of Defense. Just as any nation-state, NSA also has alliances with similar signals intelligence and cyber-warfare agencies around the world, including Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Australia’s Defense Signals Directorate (DSD), Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), and the Government Communications Security Board (GCSB) of New Zealand. These English-speaking partners are known as the «Five Eyes» countries and the signals intelligence alliance began after World War II and grew in scope during the Cold War…………
    …………..In 1975, when Australian Labor Party Prime Minister Gough Whitlam demanded information on the activities of NSA bases in Alice Springs and Woomera, Australia, the U.S., working with Australian intelligence, prevailed upon the Australian Governor General Sir John Kerr, to depose Whitlam and appoint the conservative and pro-U.S. opposition leader as prime minister. In effect, NSA ensured that a democratically-elected government was overthrown in a bloodless and seemingly constitutional coup d’état.
    NSA’s intelligence collections programs, including the PRISM meta-data vacuuming and storage and retrieval system exposed by NSA contractor whistleblower Edward Snowden, allegedly operate under U.S. government «oversight». However, the congressional oversight, the Intelligence Committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, are mere rubber stamp entities, as is the chief judicial oversight body, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The FISC, which was established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 in response to the surveillance abuses of the NSA, FBI, and CIA during the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon presidencies, was tasked with ensuring that any use of NSA to conduct domestic surveillance was subject to a court order from the FISC. However, the FISC is a secret court and its decisions are classified. It has rarely denied a government request for a surveillance warrant in its entire history……….”

  11. The AFP “undertakes its activities without fear or favour. The AFP rejects in the strongest terms any suggestion to the contrary. The AFP makes all its operational decisions independently, based on experience, operational priorities and the law. The AFP’s primary obligations are to ensure the safety and security of the Australian community and enforce the rule of law. The AFP prides itself on its independence and integrity, and has a proven track record of these values while operating under the remit of eight individual prime ministers and their governments since it was founded in 1979.”

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