Senate Services, ICT review and internet filtering

estimates

Additional Estimates - Finance and Public Administration Committee - Monday 13 February - Department of Parliamentary Services

Senator LUDLAM: I have questions on the opening statement. Mr Kenny, on the ICT review that the President mentioned in the opening statement, I would like to ask a couple of quick questions of you or whoever wants to take them.

Mr Kenny : You can, although it may be more appropriately directed to the President.

The PRESIDENT: To me.

Senator LUDLAM: Excellent. Can you tell us who is going to conduct the review and how MPs will be invited to contribute to it?

The PRESIDENT: The Parliamentary Service Commissioner is currently seeking to engage an independent expert. That part of the process has not concluded, so I do not know at this stage who that person will be. Let me say that, in discussions with the Parliamentary Service Commissioner, it was made abundantly clear that we expect all stakeholders-and there are a vast range of them-to be engaged as a part of this process: that is, the Department of the Senate, the Department of Parliamentary Services, the Department of the House of Representatives, members of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate as well as their staff and other people. So I am trusting there will be ample opportunity for engagement on this matter.

Senator LUDLAM: . How long do you imagine it will run for?

The PRESIDENT: I do not know. Again, we do not really know until the independent expert has been appointed and even then the report, when it is finalised, will go to the Parliamentary Service Commissioner. We would trust, though, that it is not a drawn-out process, because we would like to see this brought to a conclusion as soon as we reasonably can.

Senator LUDLAM: What kind of terms of reference will this independent review be given?

The PRESIDENT: The terms of reference were discussed at the staffing and appropriations last year. I do not have a copy of those with me, but we can make those readily available to you.

Senator LUDLAM: That would be appreciated.

The PRESIDENT: That is something that the Senate was made aware of.

Senator LUDLAM: That is a good start, thank you. As a member of your Presiding Officers Information Technology Advisory Group, I am interested to know whether that group was given any kind of role in that review.

The PRESIDENT: I see it as being a stakeholder. It will be consulted by the independent expert.

Senator LUDLAM: Are there any aspects of ICT that have not yet been brought across from Finance to DPS-for example, the phones?

The PRESIDENT: Mr Kenny would probably have a better knowledge of this than I. I believe the phones are one aspect that we have not yet taken under our wing. Is that correct?

Mr Kenny : That is correct. What is not included is mobile phones and their costs and the car kits, residential phone lines and the multifunction devices in your office where you have a printer and a photocopier in one place.

Senator LUDLAM: Is there a plan to bring them within the ambit of DPS? Why has that been left outside?

Mr Kenny : When this whole transfer was being negotiated, those items were left with Finance because that is what Finance wanted. But I think there was an understanding that we would revisit it possibly towards the end of this financial year.

Senator LUDLAM: Was that because Finance wanted to hang on to the telecommunications in particular?

Mr Kenny : That is my understanding. You are asking me to attribute a motive. But certainly they did not offer them and we declined.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you tell us about the filter that operates in this building? Maybe this is something that we will handball to the reviewer, but can you tell us at the moment the extent to which computers on the parliamentary network are filtered for MPs and staff?

Mr Kenny : What you mean by 'filtered'?

Senator LUDLAM: As I am aware, the entire top-level domain .info is blocked from within this building. On three separate occasions in the last fortnight I have had to ring tech support to unblock a website-an antiwar website, a peak oil website and something to do with nuclear disarmament-because they were in the .info domain. My understanding is that that entire domain is blocked to residents of this building. Is that correct?

Mr Kenny : That is correct. That was done for security reasons based on advice from government.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you just sketch that for us? I do not understand how there could be a security issue. Presumably it is with particular websites, is it, or phishing or spam? What exactly is the reason for bladding a top-level domain?

Mr Kenny : The advice was that that domain is generally considered to be a source of more than its fair share of attacks and malicious software.

Senator LUDLAM: Do you know how many websites in that domain in total are blocked?

Mr Kenny : I do not know.

Senator LUDLAM: Is that something that you would be able to find out for us? I spent two years campaigning against an internet filter for the general population only to discover that now I am one of the only people in the country who is filtered, which is a little but alarming. I am just trying to get a sense of the scope of it.

Mr Kenny : We can try and find out. I do not know whether that information is able to be found, but we can try. When I say 'able to be found' I mean whether there is a place where all .info sites are registered and whether we can make an inquiry. Without getting too technical, in my mind I would certainly draw a distinction between filtering, which is content based, and security blocking, which is blocking something that is considered to be a threat to the security of the network.

Senator LUDLAM: A website about peak oil?

Mr Kenny : I am sorry, I am just drawing the distinction between the filtering. It is something quite different. We do have a filter, which operates in a completely different way.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you tell us about that?

Mr Kenny : That has been in place for quite some years. It is as a result of the decision of the Appropriations and Staffing Committee several years ago. It was agreed that the filter would apply to senators, but an exemption can be granted if requested.

Senator LUDLAM: Senators or all MPs?

Mr Kenny : Senators.

Senator LUDLAM: That is interesting. So the Senate voted to block access. What kinds of websites are on that list? Where does the list come from?

Mr Kenny : I have not looked recently, but in about 2008 the number of sites on it was of the order of 35 million.

Senator LUDLAM: Really? There are 35 million sites that are blocked to the Senate and to nobody else in the country?

Mr Kenny : No, sorry. They are blocked for the parliamentary departments as well, but not all parts of the Parliamentary Library.

Senator LUDLAM: I should hope not. This was a bit before my time, so could you table for me some statement of reasoning as to why the Senate has decided to do this to itself, with 35 million sites.

Mr Kenny : I can provide you with a summary of what the software does. I do not think it is appropriate for me to provide you with an answer to your first question.

Senator LUDLAM: Would that go to the minutes of a committee?

Mr Kenny : It is something that I was not involved in. It is possibly the minutes of a committee. I do not know.

Senator LUDLAM: Does it apply to staff of the Senate?

Mr Kenny : Yes, I believe so.

Senator LUDLAM: So staff and senators-

Mr Kenny : Which would have been a decision, presumably, of the Clerk of the Senate.

Senator LUDLAM: But Mr Banson, his House of Representatives colleagues and their staff can access these 35 million sites?

Mr Kenny : Yes, unless they elect not to.

Senator LUDLAM: You can voluntarily put yourself on a block list?

Mr Kenny : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: Or take yourself off. I took myself off a couple of years ago, but I did not realise that it was quite as extensive as that. By way of follow-up I ask you to take away consideration of unblocking the entire .info top-level domain or maybe providing some advice as to who believes that that entire top-level domain is a security threat.

Mr Kenny : The advice was from Defence Signals Directorate people who we have worked very closely with in the last 12 months. I am quite happy for us to revisit and report back.

Senator LUDLAM: I would appreciate that.

Mr Kenny : But the security of the network is obviously critical. I could also provide the committee with some statistics on the number of requests for unblocking specific sites that have been received. Since 27 October, when the block was put in place, we have unblocked 68 sites.

Senator LUDLAM: Three of them were mine. Were people, as in residents of the building, notified when that block was implemented?

Ms Hanley : I do not think so.

Senator LUDLAM: I do not remember being told, and suddenly I could not see an anti-war website in Queensland. Mr Kenny, you have undertaken to provide some material by way of follow-up. I found that extremely informative.

Mr Kenny : On the filtering?

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, on the filtering and also anything that you are able to provide us on the whole blocking of .info. I think you undertook to review that. That is much appreciated.