The Australian communications regulator says it will fine people who hyperlink to sites on its blacklist, which has been further expanded to include several pages on the anonymous whistleblower site Wikileaks.
Wikileaks was added to the blacklist for publishing a leaked document containing Denmark’s list of banned websites.
The move by the Australian Communications and Media Authority comes after it threatened the host of online broadband discussion forum Whirlpool last week with a $11,000-a-day fine over a link published in its forum to another page blacklisted by ACMA – an anti-abortion website.
But even without the mandatory censorship scheme, as is evident in the Whirlpool case, ACMA can force sites hosted in Australia to remove “prohibited” pages and even links to prohibited pages.
Online civil liberties campaigners have seized on the move by ACMA as evidence of how casually the regulator adds to its list of blacklisted sites. It also confirmed fears that the scope of the Government’s censorship plan could easily be expanded to encompass sites that are not illegal.
“The first rule of censorship is that you cannot talk about censorship,” Wikileaks said on its website in response to the ACMA ban.
Already, a significant portion of the 1370-site Australian blacklist – 506 sites – would be classified R18+ and X18+, which are legal to view but would be blocked for everyone under the proposal. The Government has said it was considering expanding the blacklist to 10,000 sites and beyond.
Electronic Frontiers Australia said the leak of the Danish blacklist and ACMA’s subsequent attempts to block people from viewing it showed how easy it would be for ACMA’s own blacklist – which is secret – to be leaked onto the web once it is handed to ISPs for filtering.
“The Government would serve the country well by sparing themselves, and us, this embarrassment.”
Last week, Reporters Without Borders, in its regular report on enemies of internet freedom, placed Australia on its “watch list” of countries imposing anti-democratic internet restrictions that could open the way for abuses of power and control of information.
The main issue raised was the Government’s proposed internet censorship regime.
“This report demolished the Communications Minister’s contention that Australia is just following other comparable democracies,” Greens communications spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam said.
“We are not. The Government is embarking on a deeply unpopular and troubling experiment to fine-tune its ability to censor the internet.
“I agree with Reporters Without Borders. If you consider this kind of net censorship in the context of Australia’s anti-terror laws, it paints a disturbing picture indeed.”
EFA said the Government’s “spin is starting to wear thin” and it could no longer be denied that the ACMA blacklist targets a huge range of material that is legal and even uncontroversial.
The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has repeatedly claimed his proposed mandatory filters would target only “illegal” content – predominantly child pornography.
“As time goes on, pressure will only mount on the Government to expand the list, while money and effort are poured into an enormous black box that will neither help kids nor stem the flow of illegal material,” EFA said.
“If the minister truly believes that children are seeking out, or being bombarded with, child pornography, then there’s a dearth of both common sense and proper research in the ministerial suites.”
Already, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby, Jim Wallace, has said he hopes the sex industry will go broke as a result of the censorship scheme.