Section 313 inquiry to scrutinise website blocking

Parliamentary committee to examine controversial section of the Telecommunications Act 1997, implicated in ASIC's accidental blocking of 250k websites

The federal government has launched an inquiry into the use of Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 by government agencies to block access to websites.

Section 313 of the act was infamously used last year by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. An attempt by ASIC to block access to allegedly fraud-related websites let to the accidental blocking 250,000 unrelated websites.

The mass blocking took place when ASIC ordered ISPs to block access to an IP address. The IP address was shared by multiple unrelated sites.

The inquiry is being conducted by the House of Representative's Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications.

The inquiry's terms of reference state: "How law enforcement agencies use section 313 to request the disruption of such services is an important public policy question. Section 313 is also used for other purposes, but the Committee will inquire solely into and report on government agency use of section 313 for the purpose of disrupting illegal online services."

The inquiry will examine which agencies should be permitted to make use of section 313, how much authority should be required for the use of section 313, what "illegal or potentially illegal online services" should be subject to action under section 313, and the "transparency and accountability measures that should accompany such requests".

The use of section 313 has previously been condemned as risking the stealth implementation of a de facto Internet filtering regime in Australia and drawn the ire of civil libertarians.

The former communications minister, Labor Senator Stephen Conroy, said last year he was in favour of increased transparency over the use of section 313.

The committee has set a deadline of 22 August for public submissions on the issue. The inquiry is due to report to parliament by 1 July 2015.

Read more: ASIC has used s313 10 times to block websites

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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