Tech Liberty NZ Defending civil liberties in the digital age

Dear Independent Reference Group – Do Your Job

Posted on November 22, 2010

Dear Independent Reference Group,

Please do your job.

Yours, Tech Liberty


We believe that secret censorship is a threat to our democracy. We need to be careful when giving our government the ability to limit what we can see and hear - which is why we require the Chief Censor to publish their decisions. This openness, the ability for anyone to review and challenge, helps prevent abuse of the censorship scheme.

One of our objections to the government's Internet censorship filter was that the Department of Internal Affairs has refused to release the list of censored sites. They say that they'll only censor certain types of material, but how can we know that they're sticking to this without being able to see the list?

The DIA did respond to these concerns by establishing the Independent Reference Group to provide at least some semi-independent oversight of the filter, although they had to be persuaded to let the IRG have access to the list of blocked sites. Then, from the minutes of the IRG's meeting on 15th October 2010:

Members of the Group were invited to identify any website that they wish to review. They declined to do so at this stage.

Now, we quite understand that members of the IRG don't want to look at those sites. But that's not the point - they have a responsibility to ensure that the filter "...is operated with integrity and adheres to the principles set down in the Code of Practice."

This oversight isn't going to work if the IRG don't exercise it. The filter list grew from 153 entries in June to 538 in November - surely it would have made sense to have a look at the list and select some of the additions for a brief review?

Recommendation

We recommend that at each meeting the IRG should randomly select a sample of newly added sites and review the content to ensure that the filter is not being abused. Anything less is neglecting their duty.