SYDNEY -- The Australian government's website blacklist has been leaked all over the Internet.
The supposedly top-secret list of the Australian Communications and Media Authority contains 2,395 sites that would be banned under "the great Aussie firewall," an Internet filtering plan pushed by the nation's communications minister, Stephen Conroy.
The whistle-blower website Wikileaks is among the sites that have published the list, just as it did last year with blacklists for Thailand, Denmark and Norway.
ACMA has threatened any Australians found distributing the list, or accessing child pornography sites on the list, with criminal charges and prison sentences of up to 10 years. It has also banned Wikileaks, just short of calling the site an enemy of the state, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange called secret censorship lists of any kind "invariably corrupted" and told the Herald, "The Australian democracy must not be permitted to sleep with this loaded gun. This week saw Australia joining China and the United Arab Emirates as the only countries censoring Wikileaks."
On its site, Wikileaks stated: "Research shows that while such blacklists are dangerous to 'above ground' activities such as political discourse, they have little effect on the production of child pornography, and by diverting resources and attention from traditional policing actions, may even be counterproductive."
"If Australia's ‘Senator for Censorship,' Steven Conroy, has his way, Australia will be the first Western country to have a mandatory Internet censorship regime," the Wikileaks page said. "When human rights activists push for transparent government and a life free from censorship, the retort from developing world governments will rightly be ‘haha... what about Australia?'"
Electronic Frontiers Australia suggested the fallout from the list would increase anyway once it was sent to Australian ISPs as part of the filtering plan, which officials said was initially begun to combat child porn.
But roughly half of the sites on the list are not child-porn-related at all, and include online poker sites, YouTube links, straight and gay porn for adults, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, fetish sites, fringe religions and even Christian sites as well as some whose appearances on the list have yet to be explained, such as an Australian tour operator.
"The list itself should concern every Australian -- although plenty of the material is unsavory or even illegal, the presence of sites like YouTube, MySpace, gambling or even Christian sites on the list raises a lot of questions," said EFA spokesman Colin Jacobs. "The prospect of mandatory nationwide filtering of this secret list is pretty concerning from a democratic point of view."
Last week, Paris-based freedom-of-press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders placed Australia on its watch list, "Enemies of Internet Freedom," reports Forbes, also covering the story. Other "Internet Enemy" nations include Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
"The law does not say who would decide that websites were 'inappropriate.' It will not be users who will draw attention to content to be banned," said Reporters Without Borders, questioning the Australian filtering plan and related legislation, adding the law does not "say how the lists will be drawn up of the websites to be blocked, or how a website could be taken off."
The blacklist also includes two BitTorrent sites, TorrentSpy.com, which is no longer active, and TorrentFive.com, reports TorrentFreak.
The man spearheading the censorship campaign, Australian Minister Conroy, told the press ACMA was investigating the list leak and said the Australian Federal Police may step in and criminal prosecution will be pursued.
"No one interested in cyber safety would condone the leaking of this list," Conroy said.
Still, Conroy denies that the leaked blacklist is the actual list, claiming the official ACMA blacklist only contains roughly 1,050 sites, despite claims by Australian press and blogs that the government is looking at as many as 10,000 sites.
"There are some common URLs to those on the ACMA blacklist," he said. "However, ACMA advises that there are URLs on the published list that have never been the subject of a complaint or ACMA investigation, and have never been included on the ACMA blacklist."
Others who oppose publicly revealing the list include University of Sydney Associate Professor Bjorn Landfeldt. In a government report written in conjunction with the Internet Industry Association more than a year ago, he warned that "list leakage" was going to be a problem for the secret blacklist,
"It seems to me as if just about anything can potentially get on the list," Landfelt observed.
Still, Landfeldt called the list a "condensed encyclopedia of depravity and potentially very dangerous material" and told the Herald it's a "concerned parent's worst nightmare," suggesting curious children would look for the list online.
Opposition communications spokesman Nick Minchin called the leak "irresponsible," but added that it was bound to happen and doesn't think the banned sites can simply be shut down.
"The regrettable and unfortunate reality is there will always be explicit and illegal material on the Web and -- regardless of blacklists, filters and the like -- those with the means and know-how will find ways of accessing it," he said.
Minchin also offered a solution the adult industry has been stating for years: Parents must take responsibility for their children."Adult supervision is the most effective way of keeping children safe online," he said. "People shouldn't be led into believing expanded blacklists or mandatory filters are a substitute for that."