1992) Turkey is Typing….Wordpress Still Blocked

August 31st, 2007
by Deborah Ann Dilley

Last week Sami Ben Gharbia did an excellent posting (Read the article after this item on this page) about the blockage of the Wordpress blogging platform in Turkey, this week we will examine what Turkish bloggers have to say about it. There is anger, resentment, and sense of utter amazement at the absurdness of the situation. And yet, there is a powerful spirit of strength in combating this ban.

Many Turkish bloggers and expat bloggers feel that the recent banning of Wordpress in Turkey is not only a sign of things to come, but a cause for embarrassment. James in Turkey sums up the history of Turkish censorship well:

Turkey has banned WordPress, the blogging platform. This is not a move without precedent; the popular definitions site eksisözlük and, more famously, YouTube have both been blocked in the past. Turk Telekom's virtual monopoly on internet access in Turkey makes a ban an easy thing to enforce. There is, after all, just the one service provider to submit a court order to. Such a ban wouldn't be as easy in a place like Britain, where multiple companies maintain the country's internet infrastructure.

The man behind this ban is the Turkish creationist Adnan Oktar, more popularly known by his pen name Harun Yahya. It seems Mr Oktar took offence at some sentiments express about his person on a certain WordPress blog, and proceeded to have his lawyers ban the entire platform. Mr Oktar's lawyers were also behind the eksisözlük ban, which was only lifted after the entires about him were deleted.

Censorship in Turkey has long been extensive. When it comes to certain sensitive subjects - be it the Kurds, the Armenians, the hidden state or the military - Turkish journalists have always exercised a degree of self-censorship. Even ordinary Turks have a habit of lowering their voices when talking politics, lest they be overheard. In such an environment, the mere recalling of books and banning of websites can be almost second nature.

But despite its long history of censorship, the Turkish state has yet to realise that it just doesn't work. When YouTube was banned for an anti-Atatürk video that appeared in its wares, every other Turkish internet user found a way of watching the video to see out what the fuss was about. I myself have met authors who are delighted when their books are banned and taken away by the police. It makes people want to read them. Surely it's like dealing with a spoilt child - giving attention only makes it worse.

I have very little time for Mr Oktar. He is not an intelligent man. The legal action he has taken against certain WordPress blogs are completely in character and, as far as I can see, without much justification. I don't see how a tiny blog can do much personal harm to him.

But my personal thoughts aside, there is a bigger issue here - the fact that it is possible to ban parts of the Internet in Turkey. The courts should not be able to close entire websites in responsible to a single libel claim. More important than that, though, the internet access of an entire country should not rest in the hands of one single company, however privatised it might be. It's time to break up Turk Telekom.

As James points out, the ease in which this ban was implemented is of some concern, however with this ease also comes the resourcefulness of Turkish internet users to work around the ban. Erkan from Erkan's Field Diary notes that he uses his RSS feed from Bloglines to read Wordpress blogs.

Other bloggers have compared the decision to ban Wordpress to a fatwa rather than a court decision, from Internations Musings:

What I simply don't understand is why nobody knows why this court decision is made. Looks fair to me that when a court makes a decision, it issues also a statement why the decision is made…or am I wrong? Now leaving so many people in limbo, it also creates space for speculations, conspiracy theories and gossip. I think that after 5 years, I still have a lot to learn about how Turkey is ruled, but this court issued rather a fatwa than a decision…

As to the type of the ban, Living in Turkey cites Turkey as joining the ranks of North Korea and Iran:

The Turkish Courts sometime around last Friday put forth an order that blocks Wordpress from any internet user inside Turkey. Apparently, according to Photo Matt's blog, it is a DNS block. His site also provides tips for proxy servers around this block. Because of the nature of the domain, Turk Telecom banned the Wordpress domain, which includes all subdomains.

So, when I went to visit my good buddy, fellow expat and blogger, Jake at his Foreign Perspective Blog, I was shocked to see this:

It basically says, “Access to this site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/195 of T.C. Fatih 2.Civil Court of First Instance.” This is the same thing that occurred to YouTube. It is too bad that a simple prosecutor and a judge that only uses the internet for email and to read the newspaper decided this was ok. Of course the judge is only following the law, the prosecutor is to blame. Most likely a wordpress blog published controversial material either insulting Turkey, Turkishness, the military, the courts, or Ataturk - all are possible. No word yet on who the real culprit is - and also no word from the media yet either.

I guess Turkey just likes to join the ranks of firewall enthusiasts like Iran, China and North Korea. Of course, with the most recent elections, Iran is not far off. It is also a shame, because Turkey, a country of 70+ million people, has about 15 million ADSL users and still growing.

Erkan's Field Diary writes about his frustration in trying to find out more about the actual court decision:

I actually called the largest service provider, TTnet Customer Service as a mere citizen. The call person in the service call repetad that “they don't know any information about the ban. The court demanded and they banned, that's it.” So as a citizen i cannot learn why i cannot have access to the site. I later surfed in the Ministry of Justice site in order to find if court decisions are published here. No chance. So there is an accountability question here too. The banners are not accountable to citizens. If only mainstream media takes the issue at hand, we might have a chance. In the mean time, you can change open DNS numbers and you can try different proxies in ‘www.anonymouse.com' or ‘www.ninjaproxy.com' to overcome the ban and have access:)

Frustration is also mounting by Turkish bloggers and readers as they are discovering that more and more sites are blocked because of their use of Wordpress platform like the Flickr blog and the political ticker blog from CNN.

So what is being done? Good question. Many Turks are getting around the ban by using RSS feeds and proxy servers, others are signing petitions to unblock Wordpress, such as the petition from MidEast Youth, and still others are using their own sites as a protest such as Great Firewall of Turkey.

In any case, the one to blame this all on was the one man who had his lawyers block Wordpress to begin with, Adnan Oktar, a creationist and (according to bloggers) a cult leader. Hans from Internations Musings, give a brief introduction to the man:

Apparently this is what happened: the attorneys of the cult leader Adnan Oktar aka Harun Yahya, a 51 year old former interior design student known in Turkey as “Adnan Hoca”, who founded in 1990 the foundation known as BAV (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi-Scientific Research Foundation), had applied to Wordpress for removal of what they described as “unlawful statements regarding their client”. “As most of our attempts were unanswered” alleged the attorneys, they applied to Turkish judicial courts “to stop the defamation executed through Wordpress services”. Hence, by the decision of Fatih 2nd Civil Court of First Instance, number 2007/195, access to Wordpress.com was then blocked in Turkey by TTNET, an Internet network that covers all Turkey.

We learned that the sites which Adnan Oktar's attorneys wanted removed are run by an Islamic Reformer Edip Yuksel, who wrote an article criticizing Oktar and his movement where he seems to be trying to expose Oktar and his followers as a fundamentalist movement with dark secrets. Edip Yuksel published this message of rebuttal.
Started as a religious cult that preyed on wealthy members of Turkish society, the BAV has appeared in lurid media tales about sex rings, a blackmail prosecution and speculation about its charismatic leader. But if BAV's notoriety has been burnished by a sensationalist Turkish media, the secretive group has earned its reputation as a prodigious publisher of inexpensive ideological paperbacks. BAV has put out hundreds of titles written by “Harun Yahya” (a pseudonym) on various topics, but most of them are Islamic-based attacks on the theory of evolution. His book, Atlas Of Creation, decrying evolution is now aggressively promoted well beyond the borders of Turkey to the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States. The book is turning up, unsolicited, in the mailboxes of scientists and members of the US Congress, and at science museums around USA. In France, the Harun Yahya book offensive led the government to issue a warning for schools to be on the look out for the “Atlas” before it makes it into their classrooms. Meanwhile, the increasing European activity of BAV, as well as of Christian creationist groups, recently prompted a committee of the Council of Europe – a 47-nation group that acts as a kind of continental watchdog – to issue a report strongly warning about its dangers to education.

The lavishly illustrated 800-page book is one of the most significant creationist challenge to Charles Darwin's theory, which Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran. The books are slick, but BAV has had plenty of help. Creationism in Turkey got key support in the 1980s and 1990s from American creationist organizations, and BAV's Yahya books resemble the same sorts of works put out by California's Institute for Creation Research. Except in Yahya's books, it's Allah that's doing the creating. Unlike fundamentalist Christian creationists, Oktar does not claim the earth was created only a few thousand years ago. Instead, he argues that fossils show that creatures from millions of years ago looked just like the creatures of today, thus disproving evolution. Also, Oktar's brand of creationism is not only religious, but political and even messianic, seeing most of the world's ills – terrorism and fascism among them – as stemming from Darwin's theory of evolution. In 2001, Science magazine called BAV “one of the world's strongest anti-evolution movements outside of North America”.

I think that most readers would agree that the Wordpress ban is not helping Adnan Oktar's public image one bit. We can only hope that sanity will prevail and that this ban will be lifted soon.
Reader's Comments

[…] 31st, 2007 · No Comments Deborah Ann Dilley at Global Voices follows up on the same story I mentioned last week. Last week Sami Ben Gharbia did an excellent […]
September 1st, 2007 at 7:30 am
How Sh*t Works » Blog Archive » Wordpress Still Blocked in Turkey:

[…] Deborah Ann Dilley at Global Voices follows up on the same story I mentioned last week. Last week Sami Ben Gharbia did an excellent posting about the blockage of the Wordpress blogging platform in Turkey, this week we will examine what Turkish bloggers have to say about it. There is anger, resentment, and sense of utter amazement at the absurdness of the situation. And yet, there is a powerful spirit of strength in combating this ban. […]
September 1st, 2007 at 10:52 am

According to the letter of the plaintiff’s lawyer, those banned blogs are produced by the same group as a part of a defamation campaign. And owners of those defamation blogs are subjected to crime organization lawsuits inTurkey and therefore these blogs are a part of their illegal activity. And due to Wordpress management doesn’t ignore previous court decisions to remove those specific blogs, Turkish court banned whole domain name as a sanction. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that still removing the ban is in the hands of Wordpress management by just applying the Turkish court’s demand. That is why condemning Turkish judical decision is not very reasonable attitude. Wordpress has equally share in the consequence.
September 2nd, 2007 at 1:23 am
Happy Blog Day 2007:

[…] So in the spirit of uniting with all bloggers, and in regards to my last post, I will write a brief post celebrating the fact that I have the freedom to write and post my thoughts online, unlike these and other citizens around the globe who have been banned access cold-turkey […]
September 3rd, 2007 at 8:51 am

Deborah, I’m glad you gave a roundup on this seemingly recurring issue in Turkey and no one could have done a better job than Sami on the issue. I wrote about it too and referred readers to his postings which are comprehensive.


I am sorry for my fellow bloggers in Turkey who use wordpress because no one can get to their humorous, serious and even photographic imaginings. Today, I’m writing about Turkish resources citing some of these very blogs. Let’s get back to our Turkey blogging now!
September 3rd, 2007 at 18:52 pm

Well done Global Voices for follwoing up on this… there is too little attention being paid to what amounts to too easily gained censorship in an EU candidate country. As one of the 20 to 30 thousand WP bloggers based in turkley affcted by the ban, I’ve been writing on whatever I could find out… (and thanks Global for the links to my site on the stories covering CNN Political Ticker and Flickr Blog). Those keen to keep up-to-date on what is being ignored by the mainstream (CNN, in particular, where are you?) can check this interview with WP founder Matt Mullenweg on the block, who says, “We will never limit Turkish bloggers’ freedom of speech”:

September 4th, 2007 at 7:29 am
Eksponering » Tyrkisk censur og kreativitet:

[…] Selvom Tyrkiet aspirerer til medlemsskab af EU, og på visse områder har forbedret sig kraftigt, er der dog tilsyneladende stadig nogle grundlæggende aspekter af demokrati de lige skal lære1 — blog-hotellet wordpress.com er blevet blokeret. […]

Turkey: Wordpress.Com Ban Inspires Firestorm Of Criticism
August 21st, 2007
by Sami Ben Gharbia

 © This content Mirrored From TurkishArmenians  Site

blockpage (screen shot of the blocked WordPress.com) “Access to this site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/195 of T.C. Fatih 2.Civil Court of First Instance.”(Source: National Blockpages Gallery | Global Voices Advocacy Blog)

Matthew Mullenweg, founding developer of the popular WordPress blogging platform, has received a letter from the lawyers acting on behalf of a Turkish Islamic-creationist, Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya, claiming to be responsible for the blanket ban on blogs hosted on the wordpress.com blogging platform in Turkey. On August 17th, 2007, the Turkish Fatih Second Civil Court of First Instance blocked access to all wordpress.com blogs in response to a suit filed by Adnan Oktar’s lawyers on the grounds that blogs hosted on the platform published allegedly defamatory and “unlawful” statements about their client. The Court’s decision resulted in Turkish Internet users being unable to access more than one millions weblogs hosted wordpress.com.

We have applied to you to remove the unlawful statements regarding my client Mr. Adnan Oktar (…) in your blogs. The number of our attempts to inform and warn you regarding these defamation blogs must have been at least twenty, many times through your support page, a couple of times to your legal department and we even sent a regular mail to Mr. Matt Mullenweg. Most of our attempts were unanswered. So we have become obliged to apply to Turkish judicial courts to stop this defamation executed through your services. By the decision of Fatih 2nd Civil Court of First Instance, number 2007/195, access to Wordpress.com has been blocked in Turkey.

It has also been reported by Monsters and Critics that the court ordered Turk Telecom (Turk Telekomunikasyon) to block few specific websites. But, when the authors of those sites moved the allegedly defamatory content to other blogs hosted on the wordpress.com domain “we applied to the court to order that all websites of Wordpress be blocked,” kerim Kalkan, a lawyer for Adnan Oktar, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa).

Adnan Oktar’s lawyers are accusing Edip Yuksel, a Turkish writer and rival of their client, of using wordpress.com blogs to publish “slander” about Adnan Oktar. They are asking wordpress.com to dismiss all of the blogs responsible for the alleged defamatory content:

Since Edip Yuksel and his crime organization could easily start new blogs in your site, they had even launched a campaign in opening defamation blogs regarding my client and had explicitly expressed this organized endeavor in his defamation blogs: “In order to make people hear our voice, let everyone start new blogs from websites such as http://blogcu.com or http://wordpress.com and let them copy the posts on those blogs and paste them to their own. You can start several at once, if possible. Please remember that the name you will give to the blogs, should be related to Adnan Oktar or Harun Yahya in order to find them quickly through Google search. If the names are already taken, you can solve this problem by using characters such as “_” (Adnan_Oktar) or numbers such as AdnanOktar100, Adnan_Oktar_50.”

we demand you to remove and prohibit any blogs in your site that contain my client’s name adnan oktar or his pen name harun yahya or various combination of these 4 names.

In an article entitled “Shooting the messenger” posted on The Guardian's Comment is Free blog, Ali Eteraz expressed the belief that “Wordpress is caught up in a long-standing political and cultural battle between two competing Muslim groups,” adding that “the ban should be seen as the first sign of the kind of censorship that an Islamist Turkish government is willing to accept.” Some commentators, however, seem more sceptical about Ali Eteraz's conclusion: “The author is simply trying to malign the government. It's not the fault of the Turkish government that the court has passed this order. Censorship in Turkey existed before the AK party came into power. To say that banning a blog is part of an ‘Islamic censorship' is completely ridiculous,” said nadeem.

The case has caught the attention of the Turkish media and already made it to the front page of one of the top newspapers in the country. On the Turkish Blogsphere, and espacially within the wordpress.com community, two posts by WordPress founding developer Matthew Mullenweg (Blocked in Turkey and Why We’re Blocked in Turkey: Adnan Oktar) kicked off a storm of comments and reactions. One of these comments addressed the consequences of the censorship policy for Turkey:

I hope that some Turkish offical reads the comments here and takes note of a few facts:
Ban one blog site= lots of publicity that presents Turkey with a very negative image
Ban one blog site= internal problems become international public news (If they are not familiar with the items that are enclosed with […] I would like to point out that is other blogs who have picked up the story and it is spreading over the web.)
Ban one blog site= places questions about Turkish attitudes about human rights
Ban one blog site= based on the wishes of a man who is being prosecuted for the same type of crime, leaves a question on who is running the country- the officials or the criminals?

Ali Eteraz noted that a Turkish Canadian blogger is planning a blogger’s revenge plan of action, “for those who are really upset”:

I put out a call for all bloggers, on all platforms, to make silly jokes and bad puns and hey, some defamatory statements about anal-retentitiveness while we’re at it about the apparently both well-connected and thin-skinned ADNAN OKTAR or his pen name HARUN YAHYA.

This will cause Turkey either to extend the ban to ALL blogging platforms, including mainstream newspapers such as the Guardian and the New York Times, or to drop their block against Wordpress. Such legal actions have to be asserted in all cases, or they must be dropped.

Digital inspiration is providing this work-around to bypass the ban on wordpress.com in Turkey:

To bypass the government ban, Wordpress.com bloggers and blog readers in Turkey can configure the internet connection settings of their web browser and point the DNS server to that of OpenDNS instead of using the default DNS server of the Turk Telecom ISP.

 © This content Mirrored From TurkishArmenians  Site

Another user is presenting Phantomix, a new “working FreeWare Tool for bypassing censorhip” configured to use the Tor and Privoxy softwares.

A blogger Kylapasha from Islamabad has designed a badge to show Pakistani support for Turkish Bloggers:

When the Pakistani block happened, some nice folks made banners to put on their blogs. So I decided to return the favour. I’ve made a few, feel free to download and use them.

Reader's Comments

“Turkey: wordpress.com ban inspires firestorm of criticism”
August 21st, 2007 at 20:48 pm
durant cette absence… « [fikra] ????:

[…] Turkey: wordpress.com ban inspires firestorm of criticism (August 21st, 2007):The founding developer of the popular WordPress blogging platform, has received a letter from the lawyers acting on behalf of a Turkish Islamic-creationist, Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya, claiming to be responsible for the blanket ban on blogs hosted on the wordpress.com blogging platform in Turkey. (Continue reading…) […]
August 21st, 2007 at 23:05 pm

Excuse me, but I am the blogger who originated the plan of action to which you refer. It needs to be said that I am not a Turkish blogger, just a Canadian blogger concerned with the rights of the Turkish people to read what they please and the rights of over a million and a half innocent bloggers at Wordpress not to be censored.
August 21st, 2007 at 23:48 pm
Deborah Ann Dilley:

If anyone is interested, there is an online petition asking the Turkish government to lift the ban. It can be found here:
August 22nd, 2007 at 2:05 am
This week’s serving of insanity, international dept. « Suz at Large:

[…] Update: An article about it all here. […]
August 22nd, 2007 at 7:03 am

Fabulous roundup of this issue to ban and block anything something doesn’t like. Where earlier Turkey decided to block young Turks from approval of their degree received in another country, now they want to censor opinions of anyone they do not agree with. No matter the case, is Turkey turning back in time to try to put their mark on the world, albeit, an embarrassing one?
August 22nd, 2007 at 7:33 am
Bekir L. Yildirim:

Knowing a bit from the first hand experience with the Turkish judicial system and the bureaucracy , I blamed primarily the system in this ostensibly minor event turning into a saga. It appears now that there is enough blame to go around including possibly the WP which I held blameless so far (see for ex. “Wordpress banned in Turkey: a case of throwing the baby with the bath-water“).

Perusing through some of the comments on the matter it appears that some of the commenters have an ax to grind with Adnan Oktar (a.k.a. Harun Yahya) . They make his an issue of creationism versus evolutionism, which it should not be. The position Matt seems to be taking is that it is a free exchange of information in the internet , as parti of fundamental right of free speech.

This is certainly a view held by many including myself in principle. However the matter gets a bit thorny when you get into the limits, boundaries of the exercise of such right. That is why we have caseloads before the courts dealing with issues such as slander, defamation, libel, trademarks, copyrights and so on, -some of which are involved in this case. I am not going to attempt to sort out all the legal and moral issues and heir ramifications in this case. All I am trying o do is to invite all concerned to differentiate between personal dislike for a person, or opposition to his views on certain matters and justice.

I understand the predicament Matt and WP finds themselves in. They see the issue as an undemocratic justice system and an individual with strong arming the system to demand immunity from criticism. They are taking a stand on the side of the free speech. I urge them however to go beyond that reflexive behavior and engage in a bit deeper analysis of what Edip Yuksel is doing , and whether he is going over the bounds vis-a-vis the free speech. He has made a name for himself for attacking various religious persons, institutions and values sacred to others. I do not contest his right to be wrong , but I am also cognizant of the fact that WP does render judgement on suitability of the content of the blogs. The method Edip Yuksel is employing , specifically targeting another individual, and inviting others to abuse the blogging system with multiple blogs directed at the same purpose should also be questioned. WP cannot judge the veracity of all accusations in millions of pages of content, however it can place certain limits such as selection of blog names etc, as it does in the terms of service it is offering. Edip Yuksel and others should also be mindful of the fact that they have the right to free speech but exercising it on WP is a privilege.
August 22nd, 2007 at 8:53 am
Mohamed Nanabhay:

Remember when Turkey banned YouTubea a few months ago because some Greeks insulted Atarturk and the Turkish Flag?

It is important to put this into perspective (especially given that many would like to somehow infer that this has something to do with the AK Party election victory).
August 22nd, 2007 at 11:19 am

“…He has made a name for himself for attacking various religious persons, institutions and values sacred to others….”

It sounds much like Mr. Oktar himself. He slanders Buddhists, Hindu’s, atheists and Freemasons, while his attitude towards Jews is at least questionable. And let’s not forget his attack on people with certain ideas on biology.

If Mr. Yuksel would be attacking people like Mother Theresa, I guess I might somewhat agree with Mr. Yildirim.

But Oktar can dish it out but he can’t take it. Too bad.
August 22nd, 2007 at 11:24 am

For god’s sake (and I’m an atheïst). They are a bunch of hypocrits.
Well nothing new when religion comes into play… We schould consider eradicating it…
August 22nd, 2007 at 12:38 pm
Wednesday : Bush Admin Broke Law, Must Produce Global Warming Report at “Fox’d Up!” on the Head-On Radio Network:

[…] Turkey: wordpress.com ban inspires firestorm of criticism Matthew Mullenweg, founding developer of the popular WordPress blogging platform, has received a letter from the lawyers acting on behalf of a Turkish Islamic-creationist, Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya, claiming to be responsible for the blanket ban on blogs hosted on the wordpress.com blogging platform in Turkey. On August 17, 2007, the Turkish Fatih Second Civil Court of First Instance blocked access to all wordpress.com blogs in response to a suit filed by Adnan Oktar’s lawyers on the grounds that blogs hosted on the platform published allegedly defamatory and “unlawful” statements about their client. The Court’s decision resulted in Turkish Internet users being unable to access more than one millions weblogs hosted wordpress.com. […]
August 22nd, 2007 at 19:36 pm

Continued comedy of errors by Turkey and Turkish courts. Is this the new ‘Midnight Express’ of the blog revolution.
August 22nd, 2007 at 21:55 pm
Wolly Weblog » Don’t Block the Turkish Blogs:

[…] Conti mi dava il link dove c’erano i motivi del […]
August 24th, 2007 at 8:21 am
Thought Leader » Blog Archive » Turkey, WordPress and a little bit of honesty, please:

[…] week, a Turkish court issued an order to block WordPress.com in Turkey. Yes, the whole of WordPress.com, which hosts more than a million […]
August 24th, 2007 at 13:17 pm
foXnoMad » Turkey Bans Wordpress:

[…] information and discussion here. Email This Post (No Ratings Yet) Loading … del.icio.us |Digg it […]
August 27th, 2007 at 13:43 pm

Dear Sirs,

Human rights is the base of democray,law and freedom. But while benefiting from the treasure of human rights, this must not mean to attack the others. If you would like to critize someone/something, you should do it in a respectful frame. As far as I read here, the lawyers of this author kept sending many e-mails to the administrators in order to stop this unrespectful site against him. But no one replied back…even there was a decision on this… Well we should also look at from the other side. If the site was about “you” which was attacking “you” and limiting “your” human rights and what you did was through law and had a decison taken and whats more, noone was listening you, what would “you” do next? Of course and naturally again look for your own rights though law. Well each of us has our own freedom to talk, to share and to discuss but non of us has a right to humiliate, attack the other.. Best Regards to All..
August 31st, 2007 at 16:57 pm
Global Voices Online » Turkey is Typing....Wordpress Still Blocked:

[…] week Sami Ben Gharbia did an excellent posting about the blockage of the Wordpress blogging platform in Turkey, this week we will examine what […]

Critics Slam Net Block Plan
Karen Dearne | September 25, 2007

INTERNET industry experts say the federal Government's bill requiring service providers to block access to overseas sites blacklisted by the federal police commissioner could inadvertently block access to popular sites such as Facebook and slow internet speeds to a snail's pace.

Service providers fear internet blacklisting will prove difficult and expensive

The proposed legislation, introduced without notice into Parliament last week, also gives the commissioner powers to order take-downs of Australian sites related to terrorism and cyber-crime.

The amendment allows federal police to notify the Australian Communications and Media Authority of banned websites, and the authority must then notify service providers. It anticipates ISPs will block access to offshore sites with filters and other technical means.

Industry insiders say the only way a service provider could prevent users accessing banned material is by blocking the internet protocol address on the host server.

"Australia is only one tiny fraction of the global internet and there are numerous places where constitutional protections ensuring free speech mean all sorts of objectional stuff can be hosted, and at present there's no regime here actually requiring ISPs to block access to such sites," Internode carriage manager John Lindsay said.

"If such a request were made, the most fine-grained way we could actually do it would be to block access to the IP address. That's the Chinese approach. They basically block by IP address.

"Now, if that IP address happened to be MySpace, or Facebook, that would have the effect of blocking everything from those sites."

According to an Ovum report to the communications department, many hosting services carry thousands of domains on a single published IP address.

"Filtering based on IP address may result in overblocking of content that is not prohibited, but is located on the same address," Ovum said.

The government is yet to release a NetAlert study on server-based internet filters: Accuracy, Broadband Performance Degradation and Some Effects on the User Experience, completed in May last year.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Helen Coonan said the amendment would address "a gap" in the present legislation.

"This is not really about censorship," he said. "We're talking about sites that are established by criminals to defraud people.

"If it's a domestic site where people are actively inciting crime or terrorism, the AFP will be investigating with a view to prosecution, and will also order its take-down.

"The blacklisting component is about overseas sites, where ISPs have no control over the content. Unless we get the co-operation of overseas police, we are unable to chase these cases. All we can do is notify them in a voluntary list for ISPs and filter providers to update."

Telstra, Optus, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, the Internet Industry Association and others are currently reviewing the legislation, which caught them by surprise.

Electronic Frontiers Australia chair Dale Clapperton said the proposal had nothing to do with terrorism.

"These laws will be open to massive abuses by the police," he said. "They could, for example, be used to prevent access to websites organising protest marches or rallies against the government, or advocating the legalisation of euthanasia.

"To the extent that it allows police to ban access to material discussing political matters, it is probably unconstitutional."

ISP-based filtering was "a blunt instrument" that gave users no control over what material had been censored, Mr Clapperton said.

"Unfortunately, filtering will not make the internet safe for children. If parents are deceived into thinking a filtered service is safe they will be less likely to supervise their children while they use the internet."

A requirement to provide filtered services would impose serious costs on local ISPs, while also exposing them to liability when "the filters inevitably fail" to block banned material, he said. Filtering were also likely to cause a reduction in internet speed. Microsoft internet safety regional director Julie Inman-Grant said the company was concerned to ensure it could provide its content services to consumers on substantially the same terms globally.

"Content, such as videos or our social networking site, Live Spaces, will be sitting on a server in the US that users from the around the world can access," she said. "We're concerned that there may be a website link to a service that is indeed hosted in Australia, that we would have no knowledge of.

"It would be very difficult to have the capacity to check every single link that is posted on a user's individual webpage." Internode's John Lindsay said ISPs fully supported the government's efforts to remove violence and child pornography, race hate and other objectional material from local sites, and would be happy to extend that to sites promoting terrorism.

"It's completely reasonable to require that sort of stuff to be taken down from web servers hosted and administered within Australia," he said. "That's something ISPs actually have some control over, and that has worked very well.

"But, as a technologist, I have to point out that blocking content from overseas is horrifically hard, if not impossible." In the past Australia had some capability to filter cached material, but technology had moved on, he said. "Years ago, ISPs used web caching as a way of speeding up access to foreign internet sites by holding a copy of content on their servers. That provided a nice hook for a filter list for specific URLs.

"Today ISPs don't bother caching, because there's no longer any financial incentive to do so.

"The cost of international bandwidth has dropped and the rise of Web 2.0 content - user-generated content - means that more and more of what's on the web doesn't cache. If one user looks at something, the next user will see something different.

Once you start building up enormous lists of things you want to block, the list gets endlessly larger even though the original content has gone." This would have the ultimate effect of slowing down internet performance. "You might have fast broadband, but you won't get any speed from it because there's a whole room of servers between you and the internet that are picking over everything to make sure you don't see anything objectionable," he said. "That would be a ludicrous joke."


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