The New Zealand government has no current plan to follow Australia into compulsory filtering of internet connections by ISPs, says ICT minister David Cunliffe.
New Zealand's response to undesirable online material emphasises education, says Cunliffe, referring to NetSafe's educational programme aimed at parents and children.
There is currently no legislative authority in the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act for website filtering, Cunliffe notes.
The Australian proposal, first mooted by the Howard government, has attracted criticism. The extent of the planned filtering is still unclear. Australian civil liberties campaigners have called it the Great Firewall of Australia, in allusion to
China's strict state online censorship.
In New Zealand a trial web filtering programme is being conducted by the DIA in association with a number of ISPs, who have volunteered. The trial currently blocks access to about 7,000 websites that are known to deal exclusively with child
sexual abuse imagery, Cunliffe says: There are no plans for the programme to be expanded to other types of illegal material.
The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs is setting up a filter system that will allow internet service providers to stop people accessing child pornography.
But there are concerns that the power to censor browsing could be abused. The filter system has already been trialled in hundreds of thousands of New Zealand households. Internal Affairs deputy secretary Keith Manch says the voluntary system
blocks access to 7000 websites carrying images of child sexual abuse.
Internet Safety group NetSafe welcomes the move, but says there could be concerns if the department later uses the filter to block a wider variety of websites. Manch says there are no such plans and the filter is only for targeting the sexual
abuse of children. He says the department is finalising its analysis from the trial and will be discussing with internet providers how to implement the system.
At the end of this month, New Zealand's ISPs are required to start disconnecting users accused of infringing copyright multiple times. ISPs are also being asked to start censoring 7,000 Web sites under a government plan to make it harder for
Kiwis to access child pornography over the Internet.
Child pornography restrictions will be extended to the Internet under a program initiated by the Department of Internal Affairs, though it will remain voluntary, according to Radio New Zealand News. The system relies on a blacklist of specific
Web sites, and it has about 7,000 entries at the moment.
The program has already been tested in trials across the country, and ISPs are now looking into implementation details.
New Zealand says it has no current plans to extend the system behind child porn, which sets it apart from neighbouring Australia, where an ambitious (and required) censorship program has the right to block any sort of illegal content.
I am a member of the InternetNZ and I have just been reading its internal mailing list about the frightening possibility of Internet filtering coming to New Zealand, courtesy of our Department of Internal Affairs.
New Zealand's censorship laws forbid viewing or owning certain types of material (e.g. depictions of bestiality or sex with children) and this applies to material accessed over the internet too.
At this moment New Zealand does not have Internet filtering. However, the Department of Internal Affairs ran a trial internet filtering scheme in conjunction with Ihug, Watchdog, Maxnet and TelstraClear in 2007/2008 and is planning to fully
implement it in 2009/2010.
There is now a "Internet Filtering Law". It is being done under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. This gives the responsibility for enforcement to the Department of Internal Affairs.
The scheme is currently voluntary for the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) as there is no law to force them to use it.
The filter is applied at the level of the IP address but it is common for a web server to host multiple websites on a single IP address. All requests to a website on one of the filtered IP addresses will be diverted to the DIA's server.
ISPs can choose whether to subscribe to it or not. The only way for a person to opt-out of the filtering is by switching to an ISP that doesn't implement it. ISPs that have implemented it so far have not provided a way to opt out of it.
The list of sites is manually compiled by DIA officers. They will update the list monthly and only after the review and agreement of a few officers. Initially they plan to filter any website carrying child abuse related material.
The New Zealand government is spending $150,000 on website filtering software, outraging some bloggers who say the move amounts to censorship of the internet.
Since 2007 the Department of Internal Affairs' Censorship Compliance Unit has worked with a small group of internet service providers on a trial project to block access to websites distributing child pornography.
The project, using hardware and software supplied by a Swedish technology company, thwarts access to more than 7000 websites known to offer child sexual abuse material.
If computer users subscribed to the ISPs involved in the trial - which now include TelstraClear, ihug, Watchdog and Maxnet - attempt to access sites on the DIA's blacklist they are re-directed to a message explaining the site has been blocked.
Until now the DIA's filtering project has been run on a shoestring Budget of $2000 or $3000 a year, but the department won $150,000 in this year's Budget to buy software to expand the system beyond a trial. The money was part of a $661,000 Budget
increase for censorship enforcement activity.
New Zealand internet filtering commendably limited to child abuse images
Sounds as if New Zealand have been learning from the appalling censorial prevarication and nonsense from neighbouring Australia. New Zealand may have found a solution that more or less everyone will support.
The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs is inviting public input on its draft code of practice for blocking objectionable websites that host child sexual abuse images. The code is now available on the Department's website and will be open
to public comment until 28 September 2009.
The Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System will be available voluntarily to Internet service providers (ISPs) in the next two months. It will focus solely on websites offering clearly objectionable images of child sexual abuse, which is a
serious offence for anyone in New Zealand to access.
Internal Affairs, Deputy Secretary, Keith Manch, said the filter will be operated by the Department in partnership with ISPs: The code of practice provides assurance that only website pages containing images of child sexual abuse will be
filtered and the privacy of ISP customers is maintained. The filter will not cover e-mail, file sharing or borderline material.
The filtering list of over 7000 objectionable websites will be retained at the Department of Internal Affairs. The list will be reviewed manually monthly to ensure that it is up to date and that the possibility of false positives is removed.
The Department is committed to transparency and considers that continued public support for the filtering system requires the operation to be as open to scrutiny as possible. An independent reference group will also be established to ensure the
system is operated with integrity and adheres to the principles set down in the code of practice.
Joining the filtering programme is voluntary and if any ISP subsequently is unhappy it will be able to withdraw.
The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) have released to me
their report [PDF] on the testing of the Internet Filtering system.
In summary, it's already nearing capacity in testing, and it's filtering 39.9 million requests per month that don't need blocking. This, on top of the fact that it doesn't stop any of the real traffic anyway. Smells like success to me :(
The nutters of Family First NZ are calling on their government to join the Australian government's just-announced plan to introduce legislation to block websites that feature child pornography, bestiality, sexual violence against women, and
detailed instruction of crime and drug use.
Government-commissioned trials in Australia have found that blocking banned material can be accurate and have no effect on internet speed, says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ: Laws around the filtering of the
internet are a great investment to protect families as internet usage becomes more and more common in NZ homes. The internet should not be left unregulated when it comes to the protection of children.
Because of the availability, affordability, and anonymity of the internet, we must put as many safeguards in place as possible – and sooner rather than later.
While parents can take as many precautions as possible, including purchasing computer security products and supervising their children's internet use, the Australian government is not leaving anything to chance and is being proactive in the
protection of children and families, says McCoskrie.
New Zealand has quietly been working on its internet filter, due for launch by the end of next month.
The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) began work on the filter in response to community expectations that the government and the internet service providers (ISPs) should do more to provide a safe internet environment, New Zealand's DIA
said in a statement.
Branded the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System, the filter uses White Box software from Netclean of Sweden. According to New Zealand's National Business Review, it cost DIA NZ$150,000, which then further customised it.
It has been trialled for two years and features a blacklist of more than 7000 child pornography websites, which, like Australia's list, will remain private, because the department believed displaying a list would make a directory for
offenders to use, the DIA said in its statement.
The system operates by populating the routing tables of a participating ISP so that a request for the [internet protocol] IP address of a website containing child sexual abuse images results in a first 'hop' to the Department's server, it
If there is a match to the particular web page that is being blocked then the requester is presented with a blocking page stating that access to the requested page is illegal. If there is no match, then the requester is permitted
through to the internet.
The Department's system preserves the anonymity of any person that is blocked by not keeping a record of their IP address. Users who believe they have been prevented from accessing legitimate content may fill in an anonymous request that a site
on the filtering list be checked.
Furthermore, the system will be overseen by an Independent Reference Group, nominated by the DIA, made up of representatives from enforcement agencies, the Office of Film and Literature Classification, child welfare groups, ISPs and internet
The New Zealand system will be voluntary for ISPs and aims to be milder than the Australian one, by just focussing on child porn instead of refused classification sites which also include subjects such as fetishes and terrorism.
This could be why the NZ filter has not been greeted with the same level of outrage that Australia's has been, though opposition to it has surfaced, from groups who fear it could extend to other objectionable areas and become compulsory
like Australia's planned filter. They also have voiced concerns about the fact that unlike the Australian filter plan, which has come under much public scrutiny, the New Zealand equivalent has bypassed parliamentary procedures such as Bills,
white papers and select committee processes.
New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) has started an internet filter which is being used by ISPs Maxnet and Watchdog.
Thomas Beagle, spokesperson for online freedom lobby Tech Liberty says he's very disappointed that the filter is now running, it's a sad day for the New Zealand internet . He told Computerworld the filter went live on February 1 but DIA
has delayed announcing that until it held a meeting with its Independent Reference Group. He says he's disappointed the launch was conducted in such a stealthy mode .
The manager of the Department of Internal Affairs' Censorship Compliance Unit, Steve O'Brien, denies any subterfuge in the launch, saying the trial has been going on for two years and that has been communicated to media for quite some time
: The Independent Reference Group has met and the filter system processes were demonstrated as set out in the code of practice, that is that the website filtering system prevents access to known websites containing images of child sexual abuse
Tech Liberty understands that Telstra Clear, Telecom and Vodafone have said they will implement the filter, with Orcon, Slingshot and Natcom saying that they won't.
Vodafone says it is working closely with New Zealand's Internal Affairs on implementing the internet filter and is behind the concept.
A spokesman said the company was testing the filter to ensure it actually worked correctly and it doesn't negatively impact other services. Once those boxes are ticked, Vodafone expects to turn it on.
Tech Liberty spokesman Thomas Beagle said Telecom's involvement in the kiddy porn filter is a slippery slope: This is just a government censorship scheme for the internet. Once a system is in place, what can be added to it?
He pointed out that already there were calls for sites that infringed copyright to be censored and just today Commerce Minister Simon Power welcomed the next step in developing new illegal file sharing rules that requires internet service
Department of Internal Affairs spokesman Trevor Henry advised that other ISPs are being brought on progressively and discussions with Vodafone/iHug, Woosh, Orcon and 2degrees are underway. In addition, design changes are being investigated to
adapt the system for performance on mobile devices.
So far about 500 websites are on the filter list and several thousands more are to be examined.
New Zealand has had an internet blocking system running since March of 2010. New Zealand laudably limits the scope of the blocking to child abuse websites, so is proving uncontroversial and enjoys public support.
Mauricio Freitas of NZ's Geekzone recently trawled through various reports and briefings from the Department of Internal Affairs, the government body responsible for administering the filter. In December 2011, the system had clocked the following
Seven ISPs 16.1 million requests blocked (there are multiple requests per page)
415 records in the block list covering 368 unique web sites
25 appeals presumably claiming unfair blocks
A survey by InternetNZ of 877 Kiwis recently released suggests 66% were in favour of extending the current blocking to include other material . However, the report does not indicate what other material might be.
Almost half were unaware NZ even had internet blocking, while just 19% knew for certain their ISP was applying the blocks. 56% felt the decision to be individually blocked should be voluntary.
Andrew Bowater, Head of Government Relations at Telecom NZ, asked whether the Censorship Compliance Unit can identify whether a person who is being prosecuted has been blocked by the filtering system. Using the hash value of the filtering
system's blocking page, Inspectors of Publications now check seized computers to see if it has been blocked by the filtering system. The Department has yet to come across an offender that has been blocked by the filter.
New Zealand has imposed some of the world's strictest blasphemy laws by stealth, a humanist group says.
The new Harmful Digital Communications Act could have the effect of landing a person in jail for two years for committing blasphemy, the New Zealand Humanist Society president Mark Honeychurch:
This legislation not only flies in the face of human rights, but the introduction of yet another law that gives special privileges to religions is unfair, unpopular and unrepresentative of our society, where over 40 per cent of New Zealanders
identify as not religious, making this our country's largest single belief group.
The society said the act stated digital communications should not denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability .
Honeychurch said the law would effectively impose some of the world's strictest penalties - including fines of up to $50,000 - on people found guilty of blaspheming, or insulting religion. He added:
We want to increase social cohesion and understanding, and by awarding privileges and protecting groups from critique we are closing the door on free speech, free inquiry and public debate. New Zealand has to abolish its blasphemy laws before
they are used to censor, suppress, and silence public debate
Last month, lawyers cited in The Law Report said another possible unintended consequence of the law would be the establishment of a new legal avenue for recipients of defamatory digital content.
Justice Minister Amy Adams defended the censorship law claiming it would take a lot for someone to be charged under the act:
Not only must the perpetrator be responsible for posting the communication, they must intend to harm another person and that harm must actually occur. The offence is targeted at the very worst online behaviours, and will not censor, suppress or
silence public debate.
Several thousand New Zealand families have signed up to use an internet blocking service that is designed to prevent access to a wide range of websites with adult content.
Vocus, which owns the Slingshot, Orcon and Flip internet brands, began offering its network level family filter a few weeks ago. Stuff Fibre has announced it will also offer a blocking service, called Safe Zone, which its managing director
Sam Morse said would be more flexible.
Vocus consumer manager Taryn Hamilton said parents often eschewed parental control software that they could install on individual computers and other devices, as it was complex, possible to circumvent and often did not cater well for smartphones.
Hamilton said that the Vocus Family Filter instead blocks content at the network level so that the same level of censorship applies to all devices in a household. He added that parents could easily switch the filter on and off, if they chose,
using their account password.
Vocus plans to provide the filter free for a year, after which it will charge $5 a month. Hamilton said Vocus' filter was being provided by United States company Fortinet and was designed to screen out:
websites about hacking, the dark web and other illegal activities
sites that promote self harm or suicide and known infected or hacked sites
Stuff Fibre managing director Sam Morse said its Safe Zone service would be more flexible. Rather than only having a single on/off switch , Safe Zone would come with a range of pre-configured profiles . Not long after launch, it
would let customers configure settings differently for devices on a network so you will be able to decide what set-up you want for Johnny's iPhone ..
New Zealand's outgoing chief censor has urged the Government to hurry up and deliver the law change it proposed on streaming services like Netflix.
Eight months since the Government announced a plan to update broadcasting rules, including making online streaming services subject to classification and content standards, chief censor Andrew Jack has revealed his frustration at what he says has
been a total lack of progress.
Jack spoke to the Herald on Sunday in the final week of his six-year tenure at the top of the classification office and cited concerns around pornography as well as how issues like suicide, rape and sexual violence are being used by entertainment
companies for commercial gain - beyond the reach of regulation. He whinged:
Nothing has actually happened, just nothing. And I have to say that is a source of significant frustration. We know some of this material is causing harm, we know the measures which can improve the situation, but nothing has actually happened.
The only entities winning out of the current situation are the entities selling depictions of sexual violence as entertainment.
In my view, you can't just announce you're going to do something, and not do it.
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry said the Government intends to refer the bill to a select committee this year. She said:
Work on the bill has been fairly complex. It needs to be future-proofed in an era of rapid technological change, as well as being practical for existing providers and not putting barriers to the entry of new services.
In his final days as chief censor, a role he wanted to continue but was unsuccessful in seeking a third term, Jack said there were other aspects to consider, specifically around pornography and depictions of suicide and sexual violence. Jack said
there was absolutely a concern over pornography becoming an unwelcome form of sex education in young generations, though more research needed to be done to understand what exactly young Kiwis are consuming online.
Jack spoke of complains about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why:
I can't talk specifically about the series you talked about because the classification office has called that in and is in the process of deciding whether that needs to be subject to a restriction or a warning on it.
Historically as a country we've tried the 'let's not talk about it' approach [to suicide] which has not been successful. We've an appalling rate of youth suicide.
Where those issues are dealt with in a positive way, it's a really good thing. But it's where you get depictions of suicide which are instructional, or two-dimensional or suggest it's a viable option for dealing with some of the tribulations
life sometimes deals at you.
The New Zealand moralist campaign group Family First have been campaigning for new laws to censor pornography.
Family First national director Bob McCoskrie is calling for an expert panel to consider health and social issues supposedly created by pornography, and somehwhat presumptively, how to solve the problems identified.
More than 22,000 people signed McCoskrie's petition, and this week he spoke to the Governance and Administration Select Committee at Parliament, where he said porn was feeding the health crisis of the digital age.
Parliament's Governance and Administration Select Committee is currently considering the petition and whether to set up an 'expert' panel.
Chief censor David Shanks seems to have been caught up in the pre-censorship momentum. He said more needs to be done to understand porn use, and the effects. Then NZ can get to work tackling the issue. He added that New Zealand needs to take a
societal approach to tackling the pervasive effects of porn, including further regulation.
As far as regulation goes, Shanks said New Zealand could consider making similar moves to the United Kingdom, where anyone wanting to watching online porn had to go through an official age verification process. An ISP-level ban, where pornography
viewers had to opt in to viewing pornographic content, could also be part of the solution.
The Office of Film and Literature Classification, headed by the chief censor, was dedicating its major research project for the year to the prevalence, and effects of porn.
Justice Minister Andrew Little said he was aware of the issues surrounding pornography use, and he was open to suggestions on what regulatory approach New Zealand could take to tackle problems. However, there was no specific legislation in the
pipeline at the moment.
New Zealand could follow the United Kingdom in bringing in age restrictions for online pornography and blocking websites which refuse to comply.
Department of Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin, who also holds the children's portfolio, says young people are being bombarded by internet pornography and she wants censorship laws to be strengthened.
This is a really, really big issue to New Zealand and we are going to have a serious conversation about it, she told the Herald. Martin supports the approach of the United Kingdom, which has ambitious and controversial plans to introduce
mandatory age verification for pornographic websites later this year.
She made the comments after the Chief Censor began a major piece of research on New Zealand teenagers' online pornography habits. We're pretty excited about it, Chief Censor David Shanks said.
We think it's going to give us some potentially world-leading data on the New Zealand situation and teens and pornography. With this research our aim is to get solid evidence about the experiences and perspectives of young people on the table so
there can be an informed debate.
In our view policy in this area does need some consideration, in terms of how do you regulate use and access to porn in the digital environment. The question there is . . . when the average age to get a smartphone is 10 and a half to 11 years
old, what sort of tools and restrictions can we really place on access to material that's widely available on the internet?
The Office of Film and Literature Classification began the survey last week of 2300 people aged between 14 and 17. It asks if teenagers look at online pornography, how often, what sort of content, why they are looking at it, and how they are
viewing it. The survey is expected to be completed in December.
Martin said the Chief Censor's research was vital work, though she is already intent on changes:
I have already had conversations with the Chief Censor with regard to a particular drive of mine to make sure we as a nation do something about what is the bombardment of pornography and the easy access to pornography that our young people are
Considering our censorship laws were pre-internet, this is an area that we have left for a long time without addressing and I think we need to address it.
Martin said she was not interested in wholesale bans on online content because they did not work. But she supported the UK Government's approach, saying she was interested in any policy which helped to protect young people. She added:
I would really like to watch how they implement it and see what are the challenges for them.
New Zealand ISP Spark says it will block the controversial website 8chan if it resumes service, because it continues to host disturbing material.
8chan is currently down after its web host pulled out in response to 8chan being used by US mass shooters. However, Spark said if 8chan finds another host provider, it would block access. Spark said:
We feel it is the right thing to do given the website's repeated transgressions and continual willingness to distribute disturbing material.
The 8chan internet forum was used by the accused Christchurch mosque gunman to distribute his manifesto and live stream the attack.
However Spark seemed to realise that it would now become a magnet for every easily offended social justice warrior with a pet grievance and said that the the government should step in:
Appropriate agencies of government should put in place a robust policy framework to address the important issues surrounding such material being distributed online and freely available.
Technology commentator Paul Brislen responded:
It's very, very nearly the edge of what's acceptable for what your internet provider to be doing in this kind of situation.
I'm as uncomfortable as they [Spark] are about it. They do really need to find a new way to manage hate-speech and extremist content on the internet.
It's much like the Telecom of old to decide which phone calls you can and can't make.
The risk was someone would now turn around and say okay you blocked 8Chan because of hate speech, now I want you to block this other website because it allows people to access something else. It might be hate speech, it might be pornography, it
might be something that speaks out against a religious group or ethnicity.
You start down a certain track of Spark or any of the other ISPs being forced to decide what is and isn't acceptable for the NZ public and that's not their job at all. They really shouldn't be doing that.
Update: New Zealand's chief censor David Shanks chips in
I applaud the announcement by Spark that they are prepared to block access to 8chan if and when it re-emerges on the internet.
This move is both brave and meaningful. Brave, because a decision not to provide users with access to a site is quite a different thing from a decision not to provide a site with the server capacity and services it needs (which is the choice that
Cloudflare recently made). Meaningful, because everything I have seen tells me that 8chan is the white supremacist killer's platform of choice, with at least three major attacks announced on it within a few months. There is nothing indicating
that upon re-emergence 8chan will be a changed, safer platform. Indeed, it may be even more toxic.
We appreciate that our domestic ISP's have obligations to provide their customers with access to the internet according to their individual terms and conditions. Within those constraints, as the experience post the March 15 attacks show, our
ISP's can act and do the right thing to block platforms that are linked to terrorist atrocities and pose a direct risk of harm to New Zealanders.
I know that ISPs don't take these decisions lightly, and that they do not want to be in the business of making judgments around the content of sites. But these are extraordinary circumstances, and platforms that promote terrorist atrocities
should not be tolerated on the internet, or anywhere else. Spark is making the right call here.
This is a unique set of circumstances, and relying on ISPs to make these calls is not a solution for the mid or long term. I agree with calls for a transparent, robust and sensible regulatory response. Discussions have already started on what
this might look like here in NZ. Ultimately this is a global, internet problem. That makes it complex of course, but I believe that online extremism can be beaten if governments, industry and the public work together