Government department blocks access to site that keeps track of what MPs say Ben Grubb October 29, 2010
A site which makes it easy to keep a track of what MPs have said in parliament has been blocked by a government department. Employees at the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have been denied access to OpenAustralia.org on the grounds that it has been classified as a blog by its third-party internet filtering system, according to the site. The site’s co-founder, Matthew Landauer, said in a blog post yesterday that the site had been contacted by a person working for Customs who had told him that it had been blocked. “It happened that they wanted to use email alerts to stay informed on issues relating to Customs policy discussed in the federal parliament,” Mr Landauer said. “So, clearly, they were wanting to use the site for a very sensible, work related activity.” After hearing this, Mr Landauer contacted Customs for a response as to why the site was being blocked by the department’s filtering software. In an emailed response from Customs to Mr Landauer, it said that the site had been classified by its third-party internet filtering software as a blog. “The website http://www.openaustralia.org and it’s charity foundation http://blog.openaustralia.org/foundation/ are classified by the filtering software … as ‘blogs’,” the department said. Examples of blogs, it said, included commentary on particular subjects such as news or politics, online diaries, photo blogs and audio and video blogs. It could not allow “general access” to websites classified as blogs “due to the threat websites within this category can pose to the security of the Australian Customs and Border Protection network”, the email said. But Mr Landauer has argued that the OpenAustralia.org website itself is not a blog but a helpful way of keeping track of what is said in federal parliament. “Irrespective of whether you think government departments should be blocking blogs as a matter of ‘security’ policy, anyone who has spent more than a passing minute looking at OpenAustralia.org will know that it is most definitely not a blog, but rather republishes the federal Hansard, the official proceedings of the Australian parliament,” he said. Customs said that it was “important to note that the filter list is provided by a third-party” and that it “simply consumes this list”. “We do not make decisions on what category a website should be placed in,” it said. Customs did, however, say that if a “business requirement exists for a user or groups of users to access content that is unavailable, they can request an exemption which will be granted after the appropriate approvals have been sought”. In a statement provided after publication, Customs said: Customs and Border Protection uses a list devised by a contracted service provider to determine which sites are accessible to its staff. Customs and Border Protection officers can access blogs and any other website provided they have a business requirement. In addition, Customs and Border Protection is in the process of developing a Social Networking Policy to identify and address social networking requirements. Customs and Border Protection uses a third party filter list to determine which sites are accessible. Customs and Border Protection is in the process of developing a Social Networking Policy to identify and address social networking requirements.