Torrent Sites End Up on Aussie Blacklist

There are claims today that the Australian government's top-secret blacklist of banned websites has been leaked onto the Internet. There are a number of strange entries on the list that leaked to Wikileaks, including a couple of torrent sites. However, Australian Minister Stephen Conroy claims the list is not the country's official blacklist.

It was almost inevitable. Today there are claims that the ACMA-maintained website blacklist has leaked onto the Internet. Following on from the publishing of the official blacklists of Thailand, Denmark and Norway, Wikileaks is said to be publishing the Aussie list today, but at the time of writing the site is unobtainable. Of course, this is the Internet and already the list is available from dozens of other sources.

The blacklist contains around 2,400 entries and presuming that the URLs are descriptive of the material they link to, the list appears to be dominated by pornography, with a couple of legal YouTube-like adult sites making the list. Of course there are also a worrying number of sites appearing to deal with images of child abuse and no-one could seriously complain about their inclusion – but that was never really an issue.

What bothers people more are the significant number of sites on the list that don’t seemed to be linked to this type of abuse. In addition to religious sites (both pro and anti), various Wikipedia pages, euthanasia sites and a travel agent, a dentist’s website even made the list.

Other inclusions include several poker sites and UK-based betting site, Betfair.com, which was banned in Western Australia during January 2007. The company appealed saying the ban was unconstitutional and in March 2008 it was overruled. However, Betfair.com remains on the list.

Speaking of the leak, Australia’s Broadband and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says the list is not the official ACMA blacklist. He says that while the published list has around 2,400 blocked URLs, the official ACMA blacklist contains roughly 1,050.

“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,” he said.

Censorship of any type can lead to claims of undemocratic behavior and as discussion over these blacklists grew during recent months, there were concerns that many torrent sites would end up being blocked as the ‘system’ short-cutted ineffective copyright law, but it appears that this has not come about on a significant scale.

However, two BitTorrent sites – the now-defunct TorrentSpy.com and TorrentFive.com – both appear on the leaked list but it’s impossible right now to say if they appear on the ‘real’ ACMA list. There is no indication why these sites are marked to be blocked, but presumably at some point someone objected to some content indexed. Neither site operated a tracker so banning the sites’ URLs would not achieve much, since the content would be already available elsewhere – the sites in question offered an index, much like Google.

TorrentFreak itself is no stranger to being included on various blocklists, even though the site operates completely legally. We have no proof why companies, schools and other organizations would add us to their blocklists, but suspect that it’s purely because we have ‘torrent’ in our URL. And here lies the problem.

The worry remains that without overview and without those that maintain these blacklists being held to account, many other legal sites could have their domains blocked too. It’s just a shame that the only way people can find out if they are blocked is if individuals leak these lists for all to see – then of course the lists become a magnet for those drawn to illegal, sickening content. It really is a double-edged sword.

Hopefully no more torrent sites will be added to these blacklists – the censorship of criminal material they conduct themselves is more than sufficient and the torrent community is as keen as everyone else to keep their sites safe for all.

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