Tassie protests its anonymous comment law

A number of Tasmanian organisations have expressed displeasure at what they claim are out-of-date laws requiring citizens of the state to disclose personal information when they comment online about elections.

A number of Tasmanian organisations have expressed displeasure at what they claim are out-of-date laws requiring citizens of the state to disclose personal information when they comment online about elections.

Section 191 of the state's 2004 Electoral Law currently requires all election material posted on the internet to be accompanied by a name and address, as the excerpt below shows:

A person must not, between the issue of the writ for an election and the close of poll at that election ... publish, or permit or authorise another person to publish, any electoral matter on the internet without the name and address of the responsible person appearing at the end of the electoral matter.

The situation mirrors legislation enacted in South Australia recently which requires a resident's details to accompany any internet comment about the election. However, the state quickly pledged to repeal the legislation after substantial public dissent led by newspaper The Advertiser.

Digital Tasmania, a consumer action group, today condemned the Tasmanian regulations in a statement backed by Electronic Frontiers Australia, Civil Liberties Australia and the Australian Privacy Foundation.

"The sheer impracticality of enforcing this law on thousands of people in Tasmania and elsewhere commenting on this election is overwhelming," Digital Tasmania spokesperson Andrew Connor said, claiming the law was a "backwards step" for those using social networking sites such as Facebook, which he said had recently improved privacy controls.

"Those who do follow the letter of the law potentially expose themselves to harassment, stalking, physical abuse or identity theft," said Connor. "It is conceivable that such personally identifiable information may, once published, remain available online forever."

Digital Tasmania has called for the Tasmanian Electoral Commissioner not to enforce the controversial section of the state's electoral code, in a letter which the group also sent to the leaders of the three biggest political parties in the state. The communication also calls for a review of the law as soon as parliament reconvenes.

"Very few Tasmanians are aware of the requirement, there are literally hundreds of comments being posted all over the internet on a daily basis, and even some candidates for office are failing from a matter of practicality to comply with the legislation," stated the letter, which Digital Tasmania also forwarded to journalists.

Connor said that the groups were jumping on the issue now, rather than when it was introduced years ago, because the use of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had grown, and because of the highly public South Australian legislation. No one had been charged during the last election, which had gone ahead with the law in place, he said.

However, Tasmania's Electoral Commissioner Bruce Taylor has told the state's Examiner newspaper that he would take a common sense approach but would still uphold the law. "An appropriate place to include authorisation on a website would be on a footer, or on a 'Facebook' page, may be in the box where you can 'write something about yourself', which appears under the photo spot in the top left hand corner," his office said this week in a guide released on the issue.

Delimiter understands that other individuals have also expressed concern about the laws directly to the office of the Tasmanian Electoral Commissioner. In addition, the issue is being discussed on Twitter under the #tas2010 hashtag and some bloggers have posted extremely detailed critiques of the regulations.

The news comes as the leaders of the state's major political parties are on Monday slated to debate what actions Tasmania needs to take to grow its technology industries, at an event to be hosted by the Australian Computer Society at the Hobart Function and Conference Centre.

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