Independent Reference Group Meeting Minutes February 2010

Meeting held at 46 Waring-Taylor Street, Wellington 1pm, 3 February 2010


Audrey Barber (for Nic Johnstone)

Duncan Campbell

Mark Harris

Nic McCully

Steve O’Brien


Andrew Bowater

1. Introduction and Welcome

Steve O’Brien welcomed the members of the Independent Reference Group to the inaugural meeting.  

2. Presentation on filtering system

Departmental officers gave a powerpoint presentation on the filtering system. The operation of the filtering system, the compilation of the filtering list and the appeal process was explained. The Department has no intention to expand the scope of the filter beyond child sexual abuse images and has entered into a contractual agreement with the system’s supplier that it not do so.

It was suggested that small lay-out changes be made to the landing page and that the URL field on the appeal page auto-populate. The Department agreed that many people may not know what a URL is and that clearer instructions are needed.

Following a question, the Group was advised that about a dozen appeals had been filed during the trial period from persons who objected to being denied their usual access to child sexual abuse images. No appeals had identified a website that shouldn’t be on the filtering list.

It was explained that the filtering system is not an enforcement tool and could not be used to aid prosecutions. The Department was unaware of any European jurisdiction, currently using a webpage filtering system, which uses their system for enforcement purposes.

Asked to address some of the criticisms of website filtering, officers explained that, while a website filtering system will not address peer-to-peer trading it will still make a significant contribution to combating child sexual abuse images. There is a great deal of traffic going to objectionable websites and inadvertent exposure to this material is a real risk of being online. Websites also play a part in transactions to purchase child sexual abuse images and act as a gateway to peer-to-peer services. Often an offender’s first interaction with this material is through such websites. The filtering system is also a tool to raise the public’s awareness of this type of offending and the harm caused to victims. The Group agreed that this particular aspect of the filter needs to be more clearly conveyed to the public.

Officers noted that the Department is an active participant in international efforts to rescue victims and take-down websites. However, the laws in many countries don’t recognise the production and distribution of child sexual abuse images as a serious crime. Enforcement agencies are also not always resourced to combat online offences.

The Group suggested that the Department publish as much information about the system as possible. This would include regular statistics and a copy of the presentation.

3. Demonstration of departmental processes

Officers proceeded to demonstrate the process that is undertaken to review a website for possible inclusion on the filtering list. In particular it was noted that the inclusion of a website on the filtering list requires the agreement of three officers.

4. Roll-out programme

Currently, Watchdog and Maxnet are connected to the filter as the filter list is being rebuilt. The Group was advised that it is intended that the system be operational by 31 March 2010.  

The Department did not wish to pre-empt ISPs telling their own customers that they had joined the filter by make a public announcement. However, the Department has responsibilities under the Official Information Act and therefore there was an expectation that ISPs would advise their customers at an early opportunity. The Department will be writing to all ISPs to advise them that the filtering system is available if they wish to connect to it.

5. Membership 

The Group was advised that the issue of Steve O’Brien’s membership had been raised in correspondence with the Minister and the Department. Steve O’Brien offered to step down if that was the wish of the Group and offered to leave the room to allow a discussion of the matter. The Group agreed that Steve O’Brien’s continued membership makes sense.

The Department advised that it is seeking further ISP representation on the Group and had approached the Telecommunication Carriers Forum for a nominee.

6. Meeting procedures & minutes

The Group then considered whether to appoint a Chairperson and to formally vote on resolutions, and concluded that the meeting continue to be held informally.

A discussion then took place about whether there should be an official spokesperson for the Group. It was agreed that each member of the Group should be free to express publicly their own views. If it was necessary for the Group to make a statement then the Group would determine the most appropriate member at that time.

The Group agreed that a dedicated webpage for the Group was not necessary and that information continue to be released through the Department of Internal Affairs webpage. Appropriate links referring to the Group could be placed on the Children’s Commissioners’ and Office of Film and Literature Classification’s websites.

It was agreed that an electronic mailing list of members be circulated to facilitate dialogue in the Group.

7. Code of Practice

The Group was advised that the Code of Practice is a living document and that they should bring any suggestions to improve the Code to future meetings.  

8. General

Members of the Group noted that a number of questions had been put to them by a member of the public and they sought further information.

Officers confirmed that tests had been undertaken during the trial period which showed that the filter had no effect on the performance of the Internet. It was noted that TelstraClear received a peoples’ choice award while connected to the trial system.

It was acknowledged that any government website is a target for hacking. The response is to have good processes and to operate to industry standards. DNS poisoning is another hazard but that industry and government agencies co-operate to minimise the impact of this. If the Department’s filtering system fails for any reason, the effect is not an interruption of Internet service but an unfiltered connection.

9. Next meeting

It was agreed that the next meeting be held in April and that the Department’s video conferencing facility be utilised to ease the participation of Auckland based members of the Group.

The meeting concluded at 2.45pm.


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