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Australian government blocked websites with “informal” requests, meaning takedown requests went unrecorded

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Government agencies in Australia have been making direct informal requests to internet service providers to block websites instead of making formal requests under Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act.

The Purpose of Section 313 is to prevent the over-blocking of websites like the one observed in 2013 where 250,000 legitimate websites were blocked.

However, while there has not been another overblocking incident, the central register of all blocked websites is not accurate, according to IT News.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which runs the central registry, encourages state, territory, and federal agencies to report S313 requests they have made, but that is “good practice,” not a legal requirement, according to an ACMA spokesperson.

Additionally, some agencies are avoiding the whole official process and making informal requests to ISPs to block websites.

For example, using Netcraft’s automated website removal technology, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) blocked 5,579 websites linked to, among other things, alleged crypto scams and retail fraud.

Electrical and computer engineering associate professor at RMIT Mark Gregory said that the practice of informal website takedowns is “a matter of considerable concern” and that maintaining a central registry was “vital.”

“There have been a very large number of takedown notices issued and the number of informal requests is expected to be similar or larger, now that government agencies and other organizations have adopted this practice,” Gregory told iTnews.

“Secrecy, when used by government, its agencies and other authorized organisations, is a matter of public concern and can be used to undermine democracy and free speech.”

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