A blacklist authored by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) aiming to censor various “indecent” websites, including online poker sites, leaked last month with the help of anonymous sources. Now, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is beginning to own up to errors within his controversial internet censorship policy following an uproar from the Australian community.
Among the more than 2,000 blacklisted sites were numerous online poker sites, including PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, as well as sites with hyperlinks to such banned sites. These websites were scheduled to be secretly blocked by Australia’s Internet service providers (ISPs). The list was leaked by wikileaks.com, a leading online antagonist of government censorship and a supporter of freedom of information made up of anonymous submissions.
ABC TV’s “Q&A” program that aired on March 26 was Senator Conroy’s first major media appearance to discuss the government’s internet censorship plans. The response from viewers was substantial as more than 2,000 people sent in web and video questions regarding the government’s censorship proposals.
“We’ve never seen anything like the avalanche Stephen Conroy has generated,” said the show’s host, Tony Jones, when introducing Conroy.
Conroy’s admissions during the broadcast created even more of a stir and left considerable doubt regarding the government’s ability to filter the internet without unintentionally blocking legitimate websites. He acknowledged that images taken by artist/photographer Bill Henson were added to the prohibited websites list in error, and cast blame on the “Russian Mob” for the addition of a dentist’s site to the list, saying that the Mob hacked into the dentist’s site. Several other sites were on the blacklist even though they changed hosting providers and cleaned up their sites several years ago.
“The classification board looked at (Bill Henson’s) website and actually said it’s PG,” Conroy said. “A technical error inside ACMA I’m advised included it, but it was actually cleared by the Classification Board, so it shouldn’t be on the list.”
“I’ve asked ACMA in the last few hours to go through their entire list again to see if there are any other examples of this.”
Conroy’s comments raised concerns from Australians about freedom of speech issues. Because the community doesn’t have access to the blacklist they’re unaware of the criteria used in the banning process.
Such a ban on poker websites would have a huge effect in Australia, where the industry has been thriving even despite recent restrictions enforced by ACMA. The Internet Gambling Act 2001, which has been around for years, makes it unlawful to provide an interactive gambling service to a customer physically present in Australia. Only recently has ACMA become more determined in restricting such illegal material.
Some of the biggest poker tournaments in the world take place in Australia, including the multi-million dollar Aussie Millions as well as the Asia Pacific Poker Tour, Asian Poker Tour, and Australia-New Zealand Poker Tour.