SA bans anonymous online commentary

SA bans anonymous online commentary

Summary: The South Australian Government passed a Bill late last year which makes it illegal during election time to post political views on a blog or comment without also including a name and address.

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The South Australian Government passed a Bill late last year which makes it illegal during election time to post political views on a blog or comment without also including a name and address.

The bill came into effect on 6 January, but only governs the weeks after a writ has been issued authorising an election, and only content affecting South Australian politicians. It attempts to stop people from not taking responsibility for posts which could sway public opinions on the election.

The new electoral act reads:

"A person must not during an election period, publish material consisting of, or containing a commentary on, any candidate or political party, or the issues being submitted to electors, in written form, in a journal published in electronic form on the internet or by radio or television or broadcast on the internet, unless the material or the program in which the material is presented contains a statement of the name and address (not being a post office box) of a person who takes responsibility for the publication of that material."

Fines of $1250 for citizens and $5000 for media companies (which have to hand over the details) can be issued for non-compliance. It would be enforced through the usual pathways, according to a spokesperson for Attorney-General Michael Atkinson.

Concerns have been raised about the range of the law, such as whether it would apply for Facebook and Twitter. The spokesperson didn't believe this would be the case because the law mentions the word "journal" which is defined as a newspaper, magazine or other periodical.

The spokesperson wasn't even certain if this would include blog sites, since they did not fit into this traditional periodic model.

Atkinson's spokesperson rebuffed reports that the new law was a form of internet censorship. "The real point of this legislation is not blocking or censoring freedom of speech — it's just making sure freedom of speech is attributed to the right person.

"People can say what they want however they want as long as they have their name attributed to it." Media publishers would also have to keep records of those commenting on their site.

No complaint had been registered in response to the Bill, the spokesperson said, adding that the changes only brought into the online sphere the same requirements that have been in place for print publications for the last 70 years.

A spokesperson for Australia's Right to Know, a coalition of 12 major media companies dedicated to addressing concerns about free speech, said that the law was "draconian". They agreed that it couldn't be classed as censorship, but said that it would have a dampening effect on political debate. If people have to give out their name and real address to comment on a site, they might think twice before doing it.

It also raised privacy issues, since the publishing houses would have to keep the name and addresses of commenting people for six months, according to the spokesperson.

"It is a fundamental principle of our democracy that voters are able to express personal views about the competing claims of political candidates without the fear that they might end up on a 'hit list' held by a government whose policies they may have opposed," the spokesperson said.

"Isn't the whole point of public debate, that it is public and that Australians, including South Australians are smart enough to read or listen to the views of others and make up their own minds?" the spokesperson asked. "This is one of the most troubling erosions of the right to free speech in Australia for many years."

Topics: Censorship, Legal, Social Enterprise

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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Talkback

6 comments
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  • Online Safety

    Not to mention we're all told NOT to publish personally identifying information online.

    Name and postcode would be more than enough to find my home address and home phone number... and me.

    So, now it's the law to place yourself at risk of identity theft, fraud, and (if your political opinion annoys someone dedicated/crazy enough) physical violence?
    anonymous
  • Wait what?

    I heard that the SA Labour party all have a bug monthly drag parties over at the SA Attorney-General's place while playing imported r-rated games and watching porn!!! IT'S TRUE!!

    C WAT I DID THAR!!!

    A stupid post for a stupid law

    cheers
    Anon
    anonymous
  • it is a silly place

    I have to push the pram aloooot! - Yolande Kruse, 13 Sunridge, Melba street
    anonymous
  • This guy's a genius!

    Great way to get reelected:

    1. Employ censorship bill
    2. Get bipartisan support
    3. Pledge to remove censorship if they vote you back in office, otherwise face censorship under the alternative. Meanwhile, use that same law to stifle the opposition
    4. Get re-elected.

    Why doesn't he revoke it NOW, instead of waiting for the election to be over?
    anonymous
  • are they for real?

    The internet will outlast state governments, and many national governments too.
    anonymous
  • You think so..

    South Australians are smart enough to read or listen to the views of others and make up their own minds?

    Apparently not.
    anonymous