Blog stopped at customs in bizarre case of mistaken identity

In a bizarre case of mistaken identity the department of Customs and Border Protection appear to think that OpenAustralia.org‘s republishing of Federal parliamentary discussions constitutes a blog.

Last week we were told by a person who works for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service that OpenAustralia.org was blocked by their IT department’s security policy. It happened that they wanted to use email alerts to stay informed on issues relating to customs policy discussed in the Federal parliament. So, clearly, they were wanting to use the site for a very sensible, work related activity.

A few minutes later, after prompting on Twitter, I fired off an email to the Australian Customs

From:”Matthew Landauer” <matthew@openaustralia.org>
Sent:Wednesday, 20 October 2010 12:08:31 PM
To: information@customs.gov.au
Cc: contact@openaustralia.org
Subject: Query about Customs access to openaustralia.org

Dear Sir / Madam,

We just were told by a person who works for Customs that one of our websites http://www.openaustralia.org, which republishes the Federal proceedings of Parliament, which is run by a charity, the OpenAustralia Foundation, has been blocked from internal use inside the department.

Firstly, is this true?

Secondly, if this is true, what is your reason for blocking access given that there are many legitimate work uses for openaustralia.org within your department?

Thank for your time.

All the best,
Matthew Landauer

This morning I received this reply

Hello Matthew

We have received the following response from our IT Security Section:

The website http://www.openaustralia.org and it’s charity foundation http://blog.openaustralia.org/foundation/ are classified by the filtering software in use by the Australian Customs and Border protection service as ‘blogs’.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection does not allow general access to websites classified as ‘blogs’ at the present time to due to the threat websites within this category can pose to the security of the Australian Customs and Border Protection network. It is important to note that the filter list is provided by a third party and the Australian Custom and Border Protection service simply consumes this list. We do not make decisions on what category a website should be placed in.

If a business requirement exists for a user or groups of users to access content that is unavailable, they can request an exemption which will be granted after the appropriate approvals have been sought.

The classification of ‘blog’ is defined as below

Sites which contain ‘blogs’ (an abridgment of the term ‘web logs’). Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. Examples include:
Commentary on particular subjects such as news or politics
Online diaries
Photo blogs
Audio and video blogs
Regards

[name redacted] | Senior Customs and Border Protection Officer |Customs Information and Support Centre | CE&CS
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
Customs House, 10 Cooks River Ave, Mascot NSW 2020
Phone I 1300 363 263
Fax I (02) 8339 6714
Email: information@customs.gov.au
Website: www.customs.gov.au

This information is provided as a guide only and should be clarified either by lodging a formal advice request with the appropriate section of Customs or employing the services of a customs broker if appropriate.

Irrespective of whether you think government departments should be blocking blogs as a matter of “security” policy, anyone who has spent more than a passing minute looking at OpenAustralia.org will know that it is most definitely not a blog, but rather republishes the Federal Hansard, the official proceedings of the Australian parliament.

This website blog.openaustralia.org is a blog. So, block this if you must (not that anyone inside Customs can read this, of course) but don’t block www.openaustralia.org. That’s just silly.

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