Government Orders 8 Sites Blocked For Hosting Christchurch Footage

christchurch massacare isp blockingImage: Getty Images

Following new powers granted this year in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, the office of Australia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has issued a directive to the largest ISPs in Australia ordering them to block access to 8 websites for hosting the attacker's manifesto or video of the attacks.

The directive comes months after a string of sites, including Kiwi Farms, 4chan and 8chan, were temporarily blocked voluntarily by ISPs in the immediate wake of the Christchurch attacks. Australia's major telcos, including Optus, Vodafone, Telstra and TPG, ended up blocking 43 websites based off a list provided by Vodafone New Zealand, according to The Guardian.

According to a statement filed by the eSafety commissioner in parliament today, Grant said the move to block the eight websites was "reasonable, necessary and proportionate".

Optus, Telstra, Vodafone Block Sites For Hosting Footage Of Christchurch Attacks

In the wake of community and political pressure following the livestreaming of the horrific terrorist attacks at Christchurch on Friday, Australian ISPs have started blocking some sites used to rehost footage of the livestream, including the infamous 8chan image board.

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"There are no other alternative adequate measures for achieving the objective of promoting online safety through protecting Australians from access or exposure to the Christchurch material," Grant wrote. "Based on data provided by the Communications Alliance, it is estimated that a direction given to the service providers who are members of the six ISPs would have the effect of blocking content to between approximately 95.5% and 96.4% of the Australian fixed and mobile internet subscriber base."

Under the terms of the order, these eight websites will be blocked for a further six months. If the sites remove video or the manifesto of the Christchurch shooter, those sites can be unblocked. The statement to parliament didn't outline the names of the sites — bar one — to avoid directing further traffic to them, but it offers some justification for the sites being blocked.

Furthermore, while the eSafety commissioner does not have the capacity to review all of the content available on each website, two of the eight websites are known for providing access to child sexual abuse material; two others are known for providing access to abhorrent violent material; and another is a self-described ‘World News, Politics and the Threat of Islam’ blog.

The commissioner told The Guardian that out of the 413 reports made since the introduction of new laws forcing social media and sites to remove extremist content in April, none had required the use of the site-blocking powers since the Christchurch attacks.

"We do not want Australians to have exposure or access to this material ... it could be extremely damaging to the people who are viewing it, but it can also incite further terrorist acts," the commissioner said on ABC's AM radio program early Monday morning.

In a separate email to Kotaku Australia, the eSafety commissioner's office said they were working with ISPs to build "a further protocol" to combat the viral spread of the livestream and subsequent recordings of the Christchurch massacre. "


Comments

    Just what this country needs, more censorship.

      Gotta get some good test-runs in for when they use the same tech and expanded laws to block protest-organizers from communicating, down the track.

      Much like how meta-data retention was sold on the promise of being 'only for catching terrorists and pedos' and now every agency and its dog from cops to local councils applying for the ability to access the whole fucking lot without a warrant.

      Anyone who thinks this blocking won't eventually be expanded is very naive.

        You mean the metadata laws that have already had over 20 breaches by government departments, not getting a warrant before accessing? Those laws?

        Yeeeeeeeeeeah ........ Like that was never going to happen.

        The more I think on it, the less there seems to be a clear stance to take. Censorship (and this is the true meaning of censorship we're talking about here) is a problem, that's something I've always held to be true and it remains the case. Is there a case to be made for censorship that demonstrably reduces future violence? Is it enough of a violation of the privacy and dignity of the dead to deny all access to footage of their deaths? On the other hand, if the government is willing and able to censor this violence without oversight, how can the public have any faith that they won't censor abuse of their own doing (eg. police excess force, unreasonable raids on journalists) too? The dissemination of proof of government abuse of power is vital to the functioning of a healthy society. I realise it's a slippery slope argument, but it's one we've seen in practice in other countries, including western ones. To paraphrase Picard, constant vigilance is the price we must all pay.

        That's not even touching on the access argument. Content like that should clearly not be freely accessible. Porn sites have a legal and ethical requirement to restrict access to content not appropriate for children, so even if footage like the Christchurch shooting wasn't censored, there should certainly still be a firm requirement to limit who can access it. To do otherwise is irresponsible.

          On the other hand, if the government is willing and able to censor this violence without oversight, how can the public have any faith that they won't censor abuse of their own doing (eg. police excess force, unreasonable raids on journalists) too?

          They've proven they can't. Witness K is being prosecuted for revealing that the government was breaking the law. The ABC have been the target of persecution for daring to expose war crimes that the government preferred go unpunished and unknown to history. Freedom of Information requests are routinely over-classified to prevent embarrassing information from being released.

          The government cannot be trusted with protecting the right of the public to access information of public interest. It has proven this, time and time again.

            I agree, which is why in broad strokes I disagree with government censorship in this instance and in many others. I suppose what gave me pause to think is that I can envision a possible outcome where the balance of benefit to detriment could fall in favour of something I'm otherwise securely against. Exceptions, feasible if hypothetical, can somewhat disrupt the elegance of a well-defined principle.

            I think I can well define the latter argument at least. Responsible restriction of access to something isn't the same thing as censorship, and really should exist for things like this.

        People talk about dystopias as sci-fi but we're already living in one :(

        While I don't particularly want to watch the Christchurch footage, I don't believe a site that's hosting it in a non "supportive" way (ie: they're not approving of the guys actions) should be taken down. I feel like even though it's horrible, it's reasonable for the public to be able to see what actually happened (and just how fucked up the guy was).

        I guess it's another slippery slope scenario though. If you allow a legit site to host it other less-legit sites can still link to it. So it'd still be available to the nutjobs.

          It was a video of a crime, would you like your family being murdered out for the world to see?
          What about other crimes do we allow people to view footage of those as well?
          Plus it was also filmed in a private place, so they can also be in breach of privacy laws.

            We literally see footage of crimes on the news every day. So yeah we DO allow that. And there are frequently recreations and dramatisations of crimes done as documentaries as well.

            I do understand that people involved or related to those in the video would not like it. But at the same time it's (for want of a better word) educational.

    After listening to school kids watching the video on public transport in the immediate aftermath of the attacks I have no issue with this.

    I’m against censorship of fictional content, but if the dissemination of real world atrocities and child pornography is the hill you choose to die on, I’ll be over there instead boycotting cut game content.

    OK, cool. So when does the Facebook blocking come into effect?

    Well if its anything like their previous attempts the blocks will be laughably easy to circumvent.

    Why not just track the people who regularly use those sites, let the pieces of shit who commit or support this kind of stuff paint a target on their back so they can be monitored and arrested.

      Why not just track the people who regularly use those sites, let the pieces of shit who commit or support this kind of stuff paint a target on their back so they can be monitored and arrested.

      1984 was not an instruction booklet.

      We should not be a society that arrests people for thought crimes. We are not the DPRK

        I'm talking about paedophiles and terrorists, block the sites and you just give them places to hide.

          paedophiles and terrorists

          Those people have been convicted for actions.

          Convicting someone for merely visiting a site is a dangerous precedent and very authoritarian.

          4chan contains what some would find objectionable. Does that mean we need to charge anyone who visits it?

            And how do you find out they are paedophiles or terrorists, maybe by tracking people when the view or disseminate that kind of material on a regular basis.

            What you want is essentially what china has.

            You can be dragged from your home and thrown in jail/ Work camps indefinitely for merely posting an opinion not approved by the government or visiting the wrong website.

            Is that the kind of society you want?

      What have they done wrong though? Not the terrorist, but the viewer. Arresting people for supporting something you dont agree with is fascism 101. Thats the big problem here. Having a belief in something isnt illegal by itself, you need to do something illegal, or be shown to be preparing to do something illegal. Watching a video and commenting on it isnt either of those.

      Because nothing illegal has actually been done by the viewer, you then have serious issues with privacy laws.

      Thats not even covering how trivial it is to hide your viewing of the sites if you want. These blocks are nothing more than DNS blocks, which take 20 seconds to get around. To block any deeper involves packet sniffing and all sorts of things from the ISP, which again would be breaching a lot of privacy principals in the hope of catching a small minority of people.

      Laws can be changed and it can be done, but thats a very big hammer to use to catch a very small group of people. And an incredibly dangerous precedent to set.

        commit or support

          And? You cant charge someone with a crime they havent committed, and watching a video isnt either support or a criminal action, so what you're proposing is a blanket watch of the population. You cant see the problem with that?

          Its that very attitude that fueled Hitler and the Third Reich, and what drives China today. Are those good things? My family suffered through that once, I do NOT want to see it happen again.

          If someone is a terrorist or pedophile, there is other evidence. Actual, physical evidence that is needed to convict them. Computer evidence, purchases they've made, travel somewhere, or links to organisations through family or others already known. Most offenders in these areas have links to others.

          If you have just cause, sure, monitor them. Subpoena their ISP records, where you can use the metadata laws to get lists of the sites they visit. But dont make monitoring the general population the default position. History proves thats never a good idea.

      Weird exchange here. What you're describing is called a honeypot, a common practice by law enforcement the world over. Nobody gets arrested unless they've done something, the point of a honeypot is to gather the evidence necessary to make arrests. It's been suspected that 4chan has operated as a law enforcement honeypot (with Nishimura's permission) since Nishimura took over from Moot in 2015.

      The reason it can't be done in this instance is because, to the best of my knowledge, Australian law enforcement doesn't have the power to seize data hosted in overseas datacentres without international backing. Blocking is a much easier unilateral action.

        Yes, which already happens police posing as pedo's catching other pedo's or pretending to be underage In chat rooms.

        Considering Australia is part of the Five Eyes I'd imagine they can get access to data in a lot of places. If the US has access to it, then so will Australia. At least when it comes to terrorist activity. Not sure whether they share data for other crimes.

          Access, probably. Access and seizure are different though. If you want to convert a site into a honeypot you need both.

    One important thing to remember is that dissemination of this video was exactly the desire of the perpetrator and the reason why he filmed it. Another thing to remember is that he's not an isolated madman with nonsense ideas, but part of an organised group of bigots which has been waging war on the public opinion to normalise and rationalise bigotry and to radicalise those of similar thinking. One of the ways they do this is by contaminating the discourse with the matter of "freedom of speech" and "censorship".

    As such, it is worth pondering why did these people considered valuable to encourage the dissemination of the video and whether nuanced, intelligent ways to curtail that without setting dangerous precedents is possible.

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