The Government is upgrading its system for blocking websites that host child sexual abuse images from today.
The Department of Internal Affairs set up the system, known as the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System, in March 2010. It’s voluntary for internet service providers, but the majority use it to help prevent their customers from accessing illegal websites.
The system prevents more than 10,000 attempts to access 600-odd banned sites from New Zealand every month.
In May, the Government advertised to replace the current software, powered by NetClean’s Whitebox, saying it had come to the end of its life.
The same month, Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin introduced a long-awaited bill updating the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.
The proposed legislation would allow DIA to bring the child exploitation filter into law, and extend it to also filter content deemed objectionable by the chief censor’s office.
In the tender documents, DIA said: “In the future, the department may need to filter violent extremism content. Please advise if and how your solution could be expanded to provide filtering on this content when other protocols (e.g. peer to peer) are used.”
Peer-to-peer refers to the direct sharing of information between computers. Filtering it would, presumably, require interception.
Critics have voiced concerns about the Government having the power to limit what New Zealanders can see and do online.
InternetNZ chief executive Jordan Carter said he has no issues with the current, voluntary filter system, but has concerns about an expanded and state-sanctioned one.
“Combining filtering with state power is associated with problems and undemocratic regimes.
“At the most extreme end, you have countries that do whole internet shutdowns where Governments have just flicked off the switch for everyone and everything online.”
The tender was awarded this month to Israel-based company, Allot Limited; a multinational provider of network intelligence and security solutions.
In a statement, digital director of safety Jared Mullen said: “The current DCEF provider is maintaining the filter until July 31. We are implementing a more modern, stable solution from a new provider and expect to cut over shortly without any gap in service.”
The issue of child sexual exploitation and abuse online is growing worldwide and there are indications the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the problem.
Referrals of online child exploitation material to the United States-based National Center for Exploited and Missing Children have increased from 1 million in 2014 to over 18 million in 2018.
New Zealand has a monthly average of 270 incoming referrals from the centre. In April, when the country was in lockdown, the numbers were double what they were during the same month last year.