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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Internet censorship in Australia

Internet censorship in Australia currently consists of a regulatory regime under which the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has the power to enforce content restrictions on Internet content hosted within Australia, and maintain a "black-list" of overseas websites which is then provided for use in filtering software.
Since October 2008, the governing Australian Labor Party has proposed to extend Internet censorship to a system of mandatory filtering of overseas websites which are, or potentially would be, "refused classification" (RC) in Australia. This means that internet service providers would be required to block access to such content for all users. As of June 2010, legislation to enact this policy still has not been drafted. The proposal to introduce mandatory filtering has generated substantial opposition, with a number of concerns being raised by opponents and only a few groups strongly supporting the policy. Such legislation may therefore have difficulty passing through the Senate. With the announcement made on 5 August 2010 by Joe Hockey that the Coalition parties will not vote in favour of the policy should the Labor party be re-elected, it is now virtually impossible for the filtering scheme to pass through the Senate.
In November 2010, Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy (DBCDE) released a document indicating that the earliest date any new legislation could reach parliament was mid-2013.

Current status (Federal law)
A collection of both federal and state laws apply to Internet content in Australia.

Broadcasting Services Act 1992
The provisions of Schedule 5 and Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 inserted in 1999 and 2007 allow the Australian Communications and Media Authority to effectively ban some content from being hosted within Australia. Under this regime, if a complaint is issued about material "broadcast" on the Internet the ACMA is allowed to examine the material under the guidelines for film and video.
The content is deemed to be "prohibited" where it is (or in ACMA's judgement likely would be):
refused classification, or classified X18+
classified R18+, and not protected by an adult verification system
classified MA15+ and not protected by an adult verification system, where the user has paid to access the content.
Where content is deemed to be prohibited, the ACMA is empowered to issue local sites with a take-down notice under which the content must be removed; failure to do so can result in fines of up to $11,000 per day. If the site is hosted outside Australia, the content in question is added to a blacklist of banned URLs. This list of banned Web pages is then added to filtering software (encrypted), which must be offered to all consumers by their Internet Service Providers. In March 2009, this blacklist was leaked online.
A number of take down notices have been issued to some Australian-hosted websites. According to Electronic Frontiers Australia in at least one documented case, the hosting was merely shifted to a server in the United States, and the DNS records updated so that consumers may never have noticed the change.

Suicide Related Materials Offences Act 2006
In 2006 the Federal Parliament passed the Suicide Related Materials Offences Act, which makes it illegal to use communications media such as the Internet to discuss the practical aspects of suicide.

Copyright Legislation Amendment Bill 2004
The Copyright Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 was passed on 9 December 2004 by the Australian Senate, and extended copyright reform beyond the Australian-US free trade agreement (FTA). The impact will be felt most heavily by Internet service providers. The Internet Industry Association and EFA are actively opposing these efforts.

State and territory laws
Some state governments have laws that ban the transmission of material unsuitable for minors. In New South Wales, Internet censorship legislation was introduced in 2001 which criminalises online material which is unsuitable for minors. In 2002, the New South Wales Standing Committee on Social Issues issued a report recommending that the legislation be repealed, and in response the New South Wales government stated that the legislation "will be neither commenced nor repealed" until after the review of the Commonwealth Internet censorship legislation had been completed.

Notable examples
In 2002, New South Wales Police Minister Michael Costa attempted, without success, to shut down three protest websites by appealing to the then-communications minister Richard Alston. The Green Left Weekly stated these were Melbourne Indymedia and S11 websites, and that the Australian Broadcasting Authority (the predecessor to ACMA) cleared them of breaching government regulations on 30 October 2002.
Also in 2002, and under the terms of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Federal Court ordered Dr Fredrick Töben to remove material from his Australian website which denied aspects of The Holocaust and vilified Jews.
In 2006, Richard Neville published a "spoof" website that had a fictional transcript of John Howard apologising to Australians for the Iraq War. The website was forcibly taken offline by the government with no recourse.
After the devastating bushfires in February 2009, details about an alleged arsonist were posted online by bloggers. Victorian police deputy commissioner Kieran Walshe has asked the state Director of Public Prosecutions to examine the possibility of removing these blogs from the web, as they might jeopardise any court case.
In March 2009, after a user posted a link to a site on ACMA's blacklist on the Whirlpool forum, Whirlpool's service provider, Bulletproof Networks, was threatened with fines of $11,000 per day if the offending link was not removed. The same link in an article on EFA's website was removed in May 2009 after ACMA issued a "link-deletion notice", and the EFA took the precautionary step of also removing indirect links to the material in question.
The 2009 winner of the George Polk award for videography shows footage of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan being shot and dying during Iran protests. This footage has also been declared "prohibited content" by ACMA, attracting fines of $11,000 per day for any Australian website which posts a link to the video.
After the Australian government announced plans to mandate web filtering in Australia in December 2009, an anti-censorship website hosted on (The full name of the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) was taken offline by auDA after only 24 hours of being published online.
In October 2000, Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) attempted under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to obtain documents relating to the implementation of the web filter. While a few were released, many were not, and in 2003 new legislation, "Communications Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002", was passed by the Liberal government and four independents, and opposed by The Greens and the Australian Labor Party. While the stated reason for the bill was to prevent people accessing child pornography by examining the blocked sites, this bill exempted whole documents from FOI, many of which did not reference prohibited content at all. EFA state that the bill was designed to prevent further public scrutiny of web filtering proposals.

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