Australia pushes further Web censorship

Touted as tool for targeting phishing and terrorist sites, new bill would allow police to alter current Internet "blacklist."
Written by Jo Best, Contributor
A bill introduced this week by Australia's Parliament would give the Australian federal police the power to control which sites can and cannot be viewed by Australian Web surfers.

Introduced on Thursday, the bill--titled the Communications Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content) Bill 2007--would empower the federal police to alter the "blacklist" of sites that are currently prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The list currently includes pornography and "offensive material." However, under the amendment, federal police would be able to add other sites to the list, including content that the AFP Commissioner "has reason to believe...is crime- or terrorism-related content."

The definition of material that may be liable for censorship includes Internet content that "encourages, incites or induces," "facilitate(s)" or "has, or is likely to have, the effect of facilitating" a crime.

Once such content has been identified by the AFP, Internet service providers may be responsible for blocking their users from accessing it.

According to the government, the legislation is designed to target phishing and terrorist sites, among other online criminal activity.

"The new arrangements will allow harmful sites to be more quickly added to software filters," said Eric Abetz, a senator for Tasmania, who introduced the bill. "Of course the best outcome is for these sites to be taken down and their hosts prosecuted. But this takes time, particularly as most of these sites are hosted overseas.

"Rapid blacklisting means that the damage these sites can do can be more quickly reduced whilst takedown and prosecution processes are pursued, usually overseas," Abetz said.

Privacy groups have already criticized the legislation as an attack on free speech.

"This government's extremism has reached new heights today," said the chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation, Roger Clarke.

"How can a politician claim the right to hold office if they set out to undermine the critical democratic right of freedom of speech, and blatantly decline to evaluate the impact of measures put before the Parliament?"

Jo Best of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

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