Saturday, December 22, 2007

Internet Censorship Clampdown Begins In One Month

Chatrooms Will Be Forced To Undergo "Professional Assessment" To Continue Operating

Will Fight Against Child Pornography Prove To Be The Trojan Horse For Far-Reaching Online Censorship?

By Darryl Mason

A new wave of "restrictions" on mobile phone content, websites, chatrooms and message boards will be introduced in Australia by late January, 2008.

Do you like the way this has been announced only days before Christmas, and will be in place by the time most Australians return from their Christmas holidays? Surely, it's just a coincidence?

The first push in this new wave of censorship of Australian internet content begins with what may well prove to be a 'trojan horse' of sorts - the almost unanimously supported push to keep children from viewing "unsuitable material".

You are supposed to immediately think of child pornography, or graphic adult pornography, but the censorship regime is wide open to interpretation. For example, "violent imagery" also falls under these news bans. It doesn't simply mean photographs of children being abused or raped. It also means imagery that shows the results of acts of violence. War violence, for example. The censorship body in Australia has already tried to ban imagery from a video game that showed two animated android-like women kissing, and backed down to widespread outrage and mockery.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will be able to force content providers to take down offensive material and issue notices for live content to be stopped and links to the content deleted.

But ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said adults will not be affected by the new laws.

Of course not. Not yet, anyway.

"In developing these new content rules, ACMA was guided by its disposition to allow adults to continue to read, hear and see what they want, while protecting children from exposure to inappropriate content, regardless of the delivery mechanism," Mr Chapman said in a statement.

Providers of live services, such as chatrooms, must have their service professionally assessed to determine whether its "likely content" should be restricted.

And what if you are a one man chatroom operator who can't afford what is likely to be very expensive "professional assessment"? You won't allowed to operate your business online.

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Earlier this year, The Orstrahyun reported on moves to censor online content that is deemed, by the government censor, to be supportive of terrorism, or supplies information on how to carry out acts of terrorism. President Bush tells us we must read what Osama Bin Laden has to say to understand the threat of terrorism, but the Australian internet censorship body will be moving to stop you from getting access to that kind of information. Which must also mean you can forget about reading histories of Jewish terrorists fighting for the establishment of Israel, and the history of the IRA.

The new censorship regime for internet content was introduced by Howard government in September, and emulates the steel fist approach used by China. More on that here.

Back to the current story :
Personal emails and other private communications would be excluded from the new laws and so would news or current affairs services.
Is that all news and current affairs services, or just the ones approved by the government censor?

The censorship of website content will begin with tough restrictions on access to pornography and "violent images", but the temptation will be strong to broaden the scope of what material is deemed to be unsuitable for under-18s. Or what should not be available online to Australian web surfers at all.

Pornographic images of children are clearly unacceptable to all Australians, but what about an image of children torn apart by NATO bombs in Afghanistan?

Will a particularly feisty message board about government corruption or filled with commenters voicing great displeasure at the 'War on Terror', with lots of swearing, fall under the censor's blanket bans and restrictions?

Not yet.

But what about six months from now?

And what happens when independent internet media in Australia start pulling the same sort of visitor numbers as the mainstream media news sites?

This is already happening in the US, where sites like Crooks & Liars and PrisonPlanet, on a good day, can pull the same volume of readership as CBS News. Will the mainstream media work behind the scenes to freeze out the new competition? Will they push for tighter censorship and restrictions that makes it all but impossible for the independents to remain in business?

The use of the extremely distressing issue of child pornography is the beginning of the widespread censoring of internet content in Australia. It remains to be seen just how far this new censorship will go, or how far independent media and bloggers will allow it to spread before they start fighting back.

Government Expands "Black List" Of Banned Internet Sites

Porn, Violence, 'Terror' And Social Networking Sites Now In Firing Line

Australia Now Bans More Video Games Than Any Other Country In The World

'Terror' Books And Movies To Be Banned Under Extraordinary New Censorship Laws

"Patriotic" Movies, Video Games That "Glorify War" Will Be Excluded From New Ban Regime