Police ditch web auto-search
By Kate Mackenzie
21 October 2003
THE Australian Federal Police have decided to ditch software used to monitor websites, including one providing comments and news of the controversial SievX incident, in which 353 asylum-seekers drowned while trying to reach Australia by boat.
The AFP will now rely on manual labour to keep tabs on websites. After investigations by The Australian in July, the AFP admitted it was carrying out automated searches of some sites, using unnamed software that library staff were testing.
AFP spokeswoman Jane O'Brien said the software was no longer used because the trial was deemed unsuccessful.
She said library staff would return to manually monitoring websites of interest.
``This trial was to see whether monitoring those websites on a daily basis would assist when requests came in, and would provide information on a daily basis to the AFP,'' Ms O'Brien said.
``The long and short is that while they found it useful, it wasn't the most time-efficient and effective way of gathering relevant information for the AFP library.''
She said ongoing monitoring of websites of interest was now ``pretty much manually done''.
``If I, as a member of the AFP, request some information, the library does a search based on those parameters,'' Ms O'Brien said.
The AFP's use of the software to carry out automated website downloads was revealed after sievx.com administrator Marg Hutton noticed strange activity in her server logs.
More than 600 files from her website were being downloaded at 1.42am or 1.43am each day.
Investigation by The Australian revealed that the IP address initiating the downloads was used by the AFP, although it was part of an address space managed by 90East, a Canberra company that offers secure internet access, among other services, to government clients. The 90East services are accredited by the Defence Signal Directorate intelligence agency.
The boat known as SievX sank while making its way from Indonesia to Australia in October 2001, drowning most of the 397 asylum seekers on board.
The independently run sievx. com website publishes all news stories about the SievX incident, as well as material and comments from individuals.
Some comments expressed a view that AFP agents may have contributed to the ship's sinking, either intentionally or inadvertently.
The AFP says it has been monitoring the website for general strategic information relating to people smuggling.
Ms Hutton said her server logs showed there was still daily traffic from the AFP, but only about 10 pages were downloaded in each session, and access times varied.
Photo caption: Searches stopped:A distraught man [Ali Mehdi Sobie] during a protest rally in Sydney in October 2001 holds a portrait of his daughters, who drowned when SievX went down