Friday, March 20, 2009

The problem with secret blacklists

Earlier today WikiLeaks published the Australian Communications and Media Authority's secret internet blacklist. By doing so, they once again revealed the problem with all such blacklists: false positives and mission creep. According to the ACMA's website, prohibited online content they should only be blocking material which is the equivalent of an offensive publication in NZ; hardcore pornography and violence; and ordinary pornography which is not access controlled. What they're actually blocking is a bit different:

Alongside child porn, bestiality, rape and extreme violence sites, the list also includes 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.

Other Australian sites on the list are ("Tuckshop and Canteen Management Consultants") and animal carers

Oh no! Dental work! Tuckshops! Somewhere to put the dog over the holidays! Will someone think of the children!!!!!

As usual, people have no idea why they're on the blacklist or why the Australian government is defaming them in this way. None were contacted or warned, there was no hint of due process, and of course there's no guidelines on ACMA's website on how to challenge a listing. It's a perfect example of how secrecy and unaccountability lead to bad decisions. Blacklisting sites which expose the stupidity of the blacklist is just the icing on the cake...