The Fake Stephen Conroy website at stephenconroy.com.au that Crikey mentioned on Friday lasted just two days. At 5pm AEDT Friday it was taken offline by .au Domain Administration Ltd (auDA), the industry self-regulatory body for Australian internet domains, who deleted the domain with less than three hours notice.
The site’s content, including the header “Stephen Conroy: Minister for Fascism”, is now online at stephen-conroy.com instead, where auDA has no jurisdiction — although it’s hosted in the same location.
This take down was unusually fast. “Generally, such a deregistration/removal process takes a few weeks,” reports iTWire.
“We didn’t even get a written copy of the take-down notice, it all happened so fast,” says Tim March, owner of the IT consultancy Sapia Pty Ltd, which registered the domain and one of the site’s driving forces.
March told Crikey that the registrar, Domain Central, phoned him about the take-down notice after experiencing email problems. March then phoned and emailed auDA, requesting an extension of their 5pm deadline.
auDA had demanded evidence that Sapia was eligible to use stephenconroy.com.au under Schedule B of its Domain Name Eligibility and Allocation Policy Rules for Open 2LDs (2008-05). A .com.au domain must be “an exact match, abbreviation or acronym of the registrant’s name or trademark” or “otherwise closely and substantially connected to the registrant”.
However, people routinely register domains that are simply the name of a project they’re running or a product they’re selling — the connection being that the name describes the business activity.
To pick a random example, string.com.au has been registered by Internet Products Sales Services Pty Ltd to link to sites selling guitar strings and string bikinis.
It could perhaps be argued that stephenconroy.com.au is a perfectly sensible name for a site about Stephen Conroy.
The timing seems at odds with auDA’s .au Dispute Resolution Policy (auDRP) (2008-01), which requires written complaints and gives respondents 20 days to file their response.
But March says he called auDA about 30 minutes after receiving the notification.
“I must have spoken to auDA at around 1510 AEDT, which puts a rough estimate of the issue time around 1440 AEDT, which is obviously only 2h20m from issue to take down.”
Did Senator Conroy, or someone in his office, pressure auDA for a quick result?
“The Minister’s office made no request and took no other action in relation to the domain stephenconroy.com.au,” a spokesperson told Crikey — as is right and proper given auDA’s independence.
“Satire is an important part of any healthy democracy,” Conroy’s spokesperson said in response to the Fake Stephen Conroy Twitter account run by then-Telstra employee Leslie Nassar.
However, in October 2008, Conroy’s policy adviser Belinda Dennett did try to silence one of Conroy’s critics, network engineer Mark Newton, by asking the chair of the Internet Industry Association to pressure Newton through his employer.
March says Domain Central told him the normal process would be for auDA to contact them requesting the policy-based deletion.
“In this instance they apparently bypassed them and went straight to AusRegistry [who run the central domain name database] to pull the domain,” March said.
“They really wanted us gone.”
Crikey sought comment from auDA and Domain Central, but neither replied before our deadline.
Watchdog group Electronic Frontiers Australia says auDA have the right to enforce its rules, “though a three-hour turnaround on this dispute seems quite unusual”.
“This is perhaps another case study of why private regulation of the domain name system is flawed, in that it is wide open to private censorship,” EFA vice-chair Colin Jacobs told Crikey.
In this respect, the case resembles the 2006 take-down of Richard Neville’s spoof site johnhowardpm.org, although that site was taken down not by auDA but by registrar Melbourne IT, who later admitted it was “badly handled”.
Stopinternetcensorship.org says here that the rapidity of the takedown was against AuDA guidelines, as if that wasn't already obvious:
...if a complaint is received, the respondent has 20 days to respond. Not 3 hours! Also, the notice should come through the dispute resolution provider, not the auDA itself. I would presume this is to allow the auDA to remain at arm’s length from all resolution processes. Perhaps they should have done this here.
You can read the website's media release here, and another reaction here:
In recent polls upwards of 95% of Australians are against internet filtering, so why are we sitting around like lambs to the slaughter while our citizens voices are being SILENCED by our government(s)? This takedown action is precedented, totalitarian, and completely repugnant.
The site itself is a simple satirical thing, purporting to be the minister himself. It provides information on the censorship plan, as well as asking Australians to let their representatives know that they will punish Labor at the next election.
This shit has got to stop. It's beyond ridiculous. I for one do not want a government, Labor, Liberal or otherwise, to filter my internet. The fact that they are already censoring sites opposed to the plan is blatant and ridiculous.
Testing has been released on systems that will slow our internet by up to 87%, make it more expensive, miss the vast majority of inappropriate content and accidentally block up to 1 in 12 legitimate sites. Our children deserve better protection - and that won't be achieved by wasting millions on this deeply flawed system.
You can sign a petition against the internet censorship plan here, at GetUp!