[LINK] Aussie censors implement six degrees of separation policy

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd at iimetro.com.au
Fri May 8 09:41:06 AEST 2009

Go to the story for lots of links to referenced sources - unless links 
to links to links have been banned.

Aussie censors implement six degrees of separation policy
Links to links now banned
By John Ozimek
The Register
Posted in Law, 7th May 2009 05:02 GMT

The Australian Government yesterday broke new records for web censorship 
by requiring the takedown not just of a page containing harmful content, 
nor even a page linking to harmful content, but a page linking to a link 
to allegedly harmful content.

The content that the Australian Communications and Media Authority 
(ACMA) originally deemed to be inappropriate was to be found on a US 
site – Abortion TV. The site is political in nature, clearly coming down 
on the anti-abortion side of that debate – and the page in question 
features pictures of aborted foetuses.

Back in January of this year, ACMA wrote back to a complainant: "ACMA is 
satisfied that the internet content is hosted outside Australia, and 
that the content is prohibited or potential prohibited content.

"The Internet Industry Association (IIA) has a code of practice for 
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) which, among other things, set out 
arrangements for dealing with such content. In accordance with the code, 
ACMA has notified the above content to the makers of IIA approved 
filters, for their attention and appropriate action. The code requires 
ISPs to make available to customers an IIA approved filter."

Despite this, the link continued to be published by popular news site, 
Whirlpool. In March, ACMA upped the ante, by sending to Whirlpool’s ISP 
- Bulletproof Networks - an "interim link-deletion notice", warning them 
that they were in breach of the law – and that failure to block access 
to the link in question could cost them $11,000 a day.

Bulletproof pulled the link. This sequence of events was then reported 
on by Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc (EFA), who describe themselves 
as "a non-profit national organisation representing Internet users 
concerned with on-line freedoms and rights".

In a report that included the now infamous link, they wrote: "This 
demonstrates not only that the blacklist targets a wider range of 
material than child abuse (where the Minister’s rhetoric has been 
focused) but also that the lines between art, obscenity and political 
speech are not as bright and clear as politicians would have us 
imagine... Viewing or possession [of] RC content is not in itself 
illegal unless the content falls afoul of some other statute, such as 
those governing child-abuse material".

They added: "Despite the Minster’s (ridiculous) assertions that he means 
well and we should take it on faith that the filter will be effective 
and benign, this latest episode demonstrates how serious run-ins with 
the censors can be, that it does not only happen to purveyors of the 
‘filth’ politicians rail against. These sorts of incidents will multiply 
as mandatory filtering is introduced, more controversial content is 
prohibited, and mirroring, linking and circumvention become common."

It was therefore drearily predictable that ACMA would descend on EFA 
like the proverbial ton of bricks – and lo, yesterday they did exactly 
that, serving their latest "link-deletion notice" on EFA.

This time, EFA pointed out the cost of this sort of action. They said: 
"This system, which costs Australian taxpayers millions each year, is 
clearly unworkable". However, there are also clear political dangers. As 
they further observed: "If a link to a prohibited page is not allowed, 
what about a link to a link? At what number of hops does hyperlink 
become acceptable?"

It is also pretty pointless, as sites such as "Somebody think of the 
Children", which look at censorship and moral panic in Australia, remain 
hosted in the US, where they are beyond the reach of Australia's censors.

On this latest evidence, the Australian Government is now light years 
ahead of the rest of the Western world when it comes to political 
censorship. Whether a less draconian regime will at some point emerge is 
now a hot topic for debate amongst Ozzie ISP’s.


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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