A close look at ACMA’s blacklist of prohibited websites.

The following post contains some links to content which may offend some potential readers, and one nice photo which may offend particularly prudish viewers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

First, a little bit of background:

Leaked Australian blacklist reveals banned sites

The Australian communications regulator’s top-secret blacklist of banned websites has been leaked on to the web and paints a harrowing picture of Australia’s forthcoming internet censorship regime.

Wikileaks, an anonymous document repository for whistleblowers, obtained the list, which has been seen by this website, and plans to publish it for public consumption on its website imminently.

But about half of the sites on the list are not related to child porn and include a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.

“It seems to me as if just about anything can potentially get on the list,” Landfelt said.

This does concern me. It seems like just about anyone can submit a complaint to ACMA, and it will basically get added to the blacklist straight away.
This seems to me like the only way that sites such as the Satanism site and the religious satire sites discussed below could possibly be censored, unless the software companies are being infiltrated by religious fundamentalists or something.

The blacklist is maintained by ACMA and provided to makers of internet filtering software that parents can opt to install on their PCs.

That raises an interesting point. If you use client-side software to implement filtering according to an ACMA-supplied blacklist, there’s no way the list will ever remain a secret, because it has to be part of the client-side software that is distributed to the public, and you can just extract the top-secret blacklist that you’re not allowed to see from the software. A technology illiterate like Stephen Conroy might not be able to do that, but it’s perfectly doable for a technologically competent user.

Of course, Conroy is having a little bit of a tantrum. Well, this isn’t exactly new. Embarrassing material leaked on Wikileaks, politician has a cry about it.

“ACMA said Australians caught distributing the list or accessing child pornography sites on the list could face criminal charges and up to 10 years in prison.”

Right. So, somehow, distributing a list of URLs is somehow equivalent to accessing child pornography?

Oh, by the way, the list is here.

The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the leak and publication of the ACMA blacklist would be “grossly irresponsible” and undermine efforts to improve cyber safety.

He said ACMA was investigating the matter and considering a range of possible actions including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Australians involved in making the content available would be at “serious risk of criminal prosecution”.

Well, if as Conroy now claims, the list is “fake” and is not the list in question, those sound like some rather amusing claims. You know, politicians can’t just make this stuff up as they go along. You’re not liable to any real criminal prosecution until you’ve actually been found guilty of a crime before a reasonable court of law. As far as publishing a link is concerned, in the real world, I don’t believe we’re at that stage, despite all of Conroy’s rhetoric.

Conroy’s going to refer the matter to the AFP? Oh, really? If this isn’t the real list, what crime has been committed?

In the real world, in real courts, of course you couldn’t ever be “fined $11,000 per day” for posting a link that is included on a secret blacklist that you’re never allowed to see. How would you know it’s illegal? The written record of the law, of what’s illegal and what’s not, has to be public information, if you’re to have any enforceable, meaningful law. I’m not a lawyer, but that seems pretty darn obvious.

Now, Conroy simply denies the list in question is the ACMA blacklist.

Leaked list of banned websites’ was not the ACMA blacklist, says Stephen Conroy

“I am aware of reports that a list of URLs has been placed on a web site. This is not the ACMA blacklist,” Senator Conroy said in a statement.

The website which published the list currently appears to be offline.

“The published list purports to be current at 6 August 2008 and apparently contains approximately 2400 URLs whereas the ACMA blacklist for the same date contained 1061 URLs.”

Last November ACMA said its blacklist contained 1370 sites.

The watchdog has released a statement clarifying that it was aware of some websites made public, but the leaked list was not its own.

Well, if you trust Conroy to be honest, what the list appears to be is the ACMA list, plus a number of extra entries which have been added by the filter software vendor, or ISP, or whoever owned the leaked list.

If we give ACMA the benefit of the doubt, and assume that the ISP/vendor added all the really controversial or strange items on the list, it’s still shocking. Presumably, if Conroy’s proposal was implemented, they would still be controlling the blacklist, at least for their own customers, if not for everyone.

It’s still appalling that they can make the list up like that with no oversight, no reasonable standards and checks and no accountability, even if it is not ACMA itself at which this controversy should be directed.

Of course, if the list isn’t the real list, someone ought to remind Conroy that he can’t exactly threaten people with legal hellfire over a bogus blacklist.

There is, of course, another possibility, and I’d go so far as to say that this is the one favoured by Occam’s Razor: That Conroy is a lying bullshit artist.

Without further ado, some of the more interesting entries in the blacklist:

1. http://www.startcorp.com.au/

StartCorp appears to be a small Australian IT company. Their website is completely professional, above-board, “safe-for-work” and not offensive or controversial in the slightest degree.

And their website is on the blacklist.

At Startcorp (Aust) we will help you every little bit of the way to get your message online in language you can understand.

» Domain Names
» Web Design
» Web Hosting
» Web Site Optimisation

If you have got questions, we have the answers and a level of customer service second to none and we will give it to you in plain english. Use our online expertise to build your online prescense [sic] to make you money.

2. http://encyclopediadramatica.com/
In lulz we trust.

The main page (at least) of Encyclopaedia Dramatica doesn’t contain any offensive or “not-work-safe” material, and it’s completely “safe” to click the above link.

Done in the spirit of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, Encyclopedia Dramatica’s purpose is to provide a central catalog for the e-public to view parody and satire of drama, memes, e-pals and other interesting happenings on the Internets. Our goal is to provide comprehensive, reference-style parody, to poke fun at everyone and everything. You can read more about the origin of encyclopediadramatica in our About section.

As far as I’m aware, there’s no OMG-illegal-child-porn on ED. Just to double-check, I even looked up child porn on EncyclopediaDramatica, and lo and behold, they have a page dedicated to child porn. A page which contains absolutely zero child porn, zero links to child porn, and of course mentions that child porn is illegal.

If you go looking around deep in the bowels of ED, you may, however, find some other content which may offend or disturb some readers… although, of course, it’s extremely far-fetched to say that any such material is “illegal”.

3. http://dentaldistinction.com.au/

This website is completely free of any offensive content (unless, for some reason, you really, really hate dentists) and is completely safe-for-work.

Dr. John Golbrani, BDS, seems to be a very professional Australian dentist, as far as I can tell from his very professional and well-organised, useful website.

Welcome to Dental Distinction. We hope you find our website helpful and interesting. Our mission is to provide you, your family and friends with dentistry that is exemplary in its professionalism and quality of care. We offer this service in a friendly, personal and relaxed environment.

Your health and wellbeing is our priority and ongoing maintenance of your smile is always at the forefront of our recommendations. Our dental disease prevention programme and long-term treatment options will set the foundation for a lifelong healthy smile.

The government ought to have a damn good explanation, in my opinion, as to why he’s blacklisted.

4. http://img.4chan.org/b/imgboard.html

Ahh, /b/. Because the Internet is Serious Business.
Looking at the first page of /b/ right now, there’s nothing especially offensive on there. There’s only a picture of a naked woman, nothing more offensive than the Pioneer plaques or a classical sculpture.

OK, so, some of you might be wondering, what the hell is 4chan, anyway?

Time magazine explains thus:

Just about every Internet in-joke of the past few years has started on 4chan — a bare-bones, id-liberating and reliably profane image board whose Droogish users have hatched everything from Rickrolling to LOLcats. The site can also launch real-world movements, as evidenced by Anonymous, a 4chan-organized protest group responsible for several anti-Scientology rallies.

It’s worth taking note of 4chan Global Rules #1 and #2:

# Do not upload, post, discuss, request, or link to, anything that violates local or United States law. This will be severely punished and strictly enforced.
# If you are under the age of 18, or it is illegal for you to view the materials contained on this website, discontinue browsing immediately.

5. http://www.maroochyboardingkennels.com.au/data/

The directory that is actually linked, as the URL is given in the list, doesn’t actually exist. But http://www.maroochyboardingkennels.com.au does.

There’s nothing that is even slightly potentially offensive in any of the above pages; it’s all completely safe-for-work.

Welcome to the Maroochy Boarding Kennels Website. We the proprietors Marilyn & Cliff have been involved with animals all our lives from breeding to boarding. We are very passionate about providing the best possible care and surroundings for your best friend. Our onsite manager and experienced staff are also enthusiastic about animals and strive to provide the safest, friendliest and fun filled environment for your pets stay with us.

Once again, ACMA: Please explain?

6. http://redtube.com/
RedTube is a porn site. It is obviously NSFW.

Clicking the above link will only take you to RedTube’s warning/disclaimer page, where they specifically tell you that this is a site containing explicit adult content, meant for adults only, and gives you the chance to leave, if you’re not aware of that and you accidentally went to the page, without being exposed to any explicit material at all.

RedTube is a porn site. It’s user-generated-content, just like YouTube except with the stuff they won’t always allow on YouTube. The site contains material produced by consenting adults, for consenting adults. Many Australians certainly seem to like, since it is the 38th most popular site in the country, according to Alexa’s web ranking statistics.

Of course, many political conservatives and jesus freaks would simply love to simply make any and all porn illegal, if they could get away with it. In reality, it’s never going to happen.

The fact that this is the 38th most frequently visited site in the country says something about how politically viable such a proposal would be, doesn’t it?

7. http://www.satanservice.org/

“Satanism archive”. A website of information all about Satanism. There’s absolutely nothing explicit or NSFW on this page.
So much for freedom of religion.

8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Cyde/Weird_pictures

Yes, it’s a Wikipedia page. This collection of pictures is sort of borderline NSFW.

“I am compiling this collection to illustrate the depths to which Wikipedia is uncensored in its quest to be an accurate encyclopedia.”

This is a compilation of the most “explicit” images on Wikipedia – photos which illustrate BDSM rope work for example, or the erotic artwork of Édouard-Henri Avril. As you’d probably guess, even the most “explicit” images on Wikipedia are fairly tame – and they all have encyclopaedic value, which is why they’re a part of Wikipedia.

That really does have ample artistic merit, for example. It’s quite a nice photo, isn’t it?

9. http://libchrist.com/

Liberated Christians.
There’s absolutely nothing explicit on this page; it’s entirely safe-for-work.

To share a large amount of research we have accumulated and written over the years about The Bible & Sex, Responsible Nonmonogamy, Loving Intimacy, Swinging, Sex Education, AIDS, Sybian, Nudity, Tantra/Tao and other more controversial topics, such as homosexuality and abortion.

We believe that many Christians and non-Christians have misunderstood the Christian message and Christian spirituality because of the distorted views of sexuality and intimate relationships that have been taught by the church. We believe that a fuller spirituality in every area can be enjoyed by replacing these views with healthier ones based on clearer biblical translation and interpretation. We also believe that we can lead emotionally and spiritually healthier lives through better sex education and the open discussion of alternative relationship styles and other vital issues of sex and intimacy that trouble Christians and others in our society.

Dave and Bill’s presentations at many national couples’ conventions and in other forums and the success of the Liberated Christians newsletter have resulted in a large number of people wanting to network and share more information. Our newsletter subscription list grew to over 3000 before being replaced by this web site.

We hope the Cyber Center can be a Cyber Support and Fellowship Center as well as just a place to share information. We invite your participation in our interactive Bulletin Board Forum to share your ideas and experiences as well as biblical, spiritual and practical concerns.

Once again, do the creators of the list care to explain this?

10. http://files.kavefish.com/pictures/collections/funny_cat_pictures/_index-list.html
This page is not offensive in the slightest, and is completely safe-for-work.

No child porn. No violence. No criticism of the government. No blasphemy. No political speech of any kind.
It’s a page filled with cute pictures of cats with ostensibly funny captions.

And this, dear readers, is on the leaked blacklist. I’m not making this up; go and check the blacklist yourself.

11. http://www.fulltiltpoker.com/

There are scores of online poker sites on the list; I won’t bother addressing them individually.

The reason these sites are all on the blacklist is because of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, which basically prohibits the provision of certain types of online gambling to an Australian audience. Of course, they can’t actually prohibit the existence of an offshore website, and the closest that they can come is to “ban” the websites.

Some more info, from ACMA:

The Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (the IGA) makes it an offence to provide, or advertise, certain interactive gambling services. ACMA is responsible for investigating formal complaints made under the IGA in relation to prohibited internet gambling content.

Prohibited internet gambling content is content that can be accessed, or is available for access, by customers of a prohibited internet gambling service.

A prohibited internet gambling service is a gambling service provided in the course of carrying on a business to customers using an internet carriage service, and an individual physically present in Australia is capable of becoming a customer of the service.

If ACMA receives a complaint about prohibited internet gambling content that is hosted in Australia, ACMA will refer the matter to the Australian Federal Police.

If prohibited internet gambling content is hosted outside Australia, ACMA will notify the content to makers of the approved Family Friendly Filters listed in Schedule 1 to the Interactive Gambling Act Industry code.

These are only a small fraction of the more surprising or unusual inclusions in the list; and I’ll look at some others later.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. You’re just cherry-picking the list, right? There are thousands of entries in the file, and most of them really are probably bad, illegal, depraved content; child porn or whatever.

Well, OK. Now, I would be offended if I saw child porn, and I really don’t want to be exposed to it. But the question is, just what portion of this blacklist of sites is actually made up of active sites which contain child porn? That’s an impossible question to answer without looking at all the sites, but it’s a question which is central to the honesty of Conroy’s claims, that this is all about child porn.

So, I’ll just have to grit my teeth, and cross my fingers that I’m not going to have to deal with child porn, and start looking at all the URLs, one by one.

The following pages can generally be considered NSFW. There are of course no links to any CP of any kind, but there are a couple of legit porn sites.

1. tgpme.com Page is NSFW.

OK, here’s a page that links to a bunch of porn sites, most of which do appear to feature barely-legal teenage models.
But “barely-legal” is, of course, legal. “Teen” does not imply illegal CP.

Of course porn producers just love to seek out 18 year old models who look as young as possible. But unless anyone can actually show me the evidence that they’re illegally modelling underage children, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt. I can’t see any reason why legitimate porn studios would possibly risk breaking the law in this regard.

2. newthumbs.net

The same thing again, really. These sites seem to be seeking out and proudly promoting the youngest-looking 18 year old models they can find, but once again, that’s not child porn, even if they’ve just turned 18 that very day. Most of these sites indicate that, yes, the models are 18 years old, and they seem to be willing to do everything by the books as porn site operators.

3. bbs12.mail15.su

Gives a 404 error and redirects to http://video.ru
There’s no adult content to be seen here, at all.

4. http://cybermovs.narod.ru/
Uh-oh, a Russian website. This might be leading me dangerously close to pedobear territory.
But no, it just 404s, and there’s no CP, nor any other adult content at all, to be seen here.

5. http://groups.google.com/group/mozilla.dev.apps.seamonkey/browse_thread/thread/e8a2eb7b73335439

What on Earth is this!? The Google Group for SeaMonkey development? Doesn’t look like that naughty naughty pedobear is lurking here.
The link to the particular thread seems to be broken, so there’s no content to be found here, explicit or not, in any case.

6. hrdpdfl8.paginas.sapo.pt/2/main.html

Once again, it’s a broken link, and there’s no pedobear to be found here.

7. imgsrc.ru/main/search_re.php?str=&tag=&butt=ya&where=ya&nopass=on&cat=24&page=5

Uh-oh, another Russian website, this could be the pedobear territory we’ve feared. We’ve got an index of links to pics, these are likely porn, but I can’t say for sure that any of them are CP or not without looking at them all, and I really don’t want to do that.

8. lolitacj.freepimphost.com

Once again, there’s no page here, just one of those placeholder advertising pages, with some ad links to porn.

9. mclt-sites.net/latvian/main/?sid=1189

Broken link; there’s no page there at all.

10. myusenet.net/files/0/alt.binaries.pictures.wals/0/index96.htm

A broken link with a pretty boring completely non-explicit placeholder page.

OK, there’s a random sample of the first 10 pages from the blacklist. We’ve got 7 broken links, 2 porn sites which seem above board, and one page of seemingly explicit links which I’m not sure is free of CP or not, and I thankfully haven’t been assaulted with any child porn whilst looking at these 10 links.

It’s a small sample size I know, but is this what the rest of the list is? 70% broken links? 20% porn sites, that as much as some people might dislike the fact, are legal?

If there are actual active websites that contain child pornography on this list, and the Federal Government knows the URLs for these sites, they should bloody well get off their arses and go and find out where the sites are hosted, and then go and work with Interpol and work with the various international law enforcement agencies to get them closed down.


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