Circumvention legal, but you can't tell anyone how

Australia’s plans for a firewall to protect its population from smut on the internet are rapidly evolving from farce to total chaos. Weekly revelations on bulletin boards suggest that Stephen Conroy, the man behind the big idea, does not know what forthcoming legislation on the topic will say, when it will be introduced or how the firewall will work in practice.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the Minister’s own Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) has been hosting a secret forum for discussions with ISPs likely to be affected by proposals. Along the way it floated the idea of making it a crime to advise surfers on how to do things that are perfectly legal to do. Confused? You will be.

First up is the time scale for plans to introduce the new firewall. As already reported, the question of when legislation will be introduced has now been bouncing between the offices of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Severe wriggling from Conroy’s office suggests that plans for an early introduction of legislation have been put on the back burner for now.

As if one embarrassment were not enough, at the end of April, Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) revealed that it had in its possession screenshots of a secret forum hosting discussions between the Department of Communications and various ISPs.

Despite assurances from Conroy in December 2009 that legislation would be before the Australian parliament by March of this year, one post on the forum from mid-April acknowledged that the Department had not yet assembled even draft legislation.

Meanwhile further digging inside this forum revealed that departmental officials appear to have been discussing the possibility of making it a criminal offence to advise individuals of means that would enable them to circumvent the filter – even where the means themselves were perfectly legal.

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