From Wikileaks, May 26, 2009
The Australian government told a Senate estimates hearing this week that less than 32% of the country’s secret internet censorship list is related to underage images.
During the hearing, the government also stated that the WikiLeaks publication of the full list in March has now been officially referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) ‘blacklist’ is slated to form the backbone of a national, mandatory, internet censorship system.
ACMA admitted that:
* A mere 32% of the secret censorship list is related to a category covering potentially sexually provocative images of persons appearing to be under the age of 18, pages with links to these images or other ‘child abuse’ information. The list is claimed, by the government, to be for tackling child pornography.
* After an unusual delay, the Australian government have now officially referred the publication of the list to the Australian Federal Police. It is alleged that WikiLeaks’ release of the censorship list is illegal under Australian law.
* Subsequent to revelations by WikiLeaks that the secret list contained many harmless or political sites (including WikiLeaks itself) around 150 have been removed from the list. At the time ACMA admitted the list held over 1100 URLs. ACMA now claims the censorship list has 977 URLs.
In light of the Senate testimony, it is worth repeating what WikiLeaks stated when it released the censorship list on the 18th of March, 2009:
‘While WikiLeaks is used to exposing secret government censorship in developing countries, we now find Australia acting like a democratic backwater. Apparently without irony, ACMA threatens fines of upto $11,000 a day for linking to sites on its secret, unreviewable, censorship blacklist — a list the government hopes to expand into a giant national censorship machine.
History shows that secret censorship systems, whatever their original intent, are invariably corrupted into anti-democratic behavior.
This week saw Australia joining China and the United Arab Emirates as the only countries censoring WikiLeaks. We were not notified by ACMA.
In December last year we released the secret Internet censorship list for Thailand. Of the sites censored in 2008, 1,203 sites were classified as ‘lese majeste’ — criticizing the Royal family. Like Australia, the Thai censorship system was originally pushed to be a mechanism to prevent the child pornography.
Research shows that while such blacklists are dangerous to ‘above ground’ activities such as political discourse, they have little effect on the production of child pornography, and by diverting resources and attention from traditional policing actions, may even be counter-productive. For a fascinating insider’s account, see ‘An insight into child porn’.
In January 2009, the Thai system was used to censor Australian reportage about the imprisonment of Harry Nicolaides, an Australian writer, who wrote a novel containing a single paragraph deemed to be critical of the Thai Monarchy.
Most of the sites on the Australian list have no obvious connection to child pornography. Some have changed owners while others were clearly always about other subjects.’
Children depend, even more than their parents, on the quality and viability of government. Corruption of those traditions which keep government honest and accountable – public oversight, natural justice, and protection from state censorship – is not just an affront to Enlightenment ideals, but an assault on the interests of children.
The full Senate transcript follows: