Linking to Wikileaks could cost you $11,000

March 19, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More

Well, it will if the Australian government gets its way on its internet censorship bill. That’s right. The ACMA seems to have placed Wikileaks on its potential web blacklist and seems set on throwing fines of up to $11,000 at anyone who links to it.

I’d happily go all out on this one, but a fellow Antipodean has already got this one in his sights:

I’m posting this on my American blog because the Australian government, through the Australian Communications and Media Authority is fining people on Australian sites who give the links below the fold $11,000/day. Pretty well everything I feared about censorship by the internet filter and heavy handed government action is coming true.

First of all, it transpires that only one bureaucrat at ACMA is required to block and ban a site, with no further oversight or redress. Second, it turns out that yes, ordinary and popular pornography sites are being blocked, so that if the filter becomes mandatory, these legal sites will effectively become censored for no apparent reason (other than political whim or special privileges). Thirdly, the whistleblower site Wikileaks is blocked by the ACMA blacklist.

John follows with the excerpt from a Crikey article:

Like New Labour in the UK, the ALP has now abandoned that [civil liberties movement], for a number of reasons. Once it committed itself to neoliberal economics (“social capitalism”) Labo(u)r became freaked about the social dissolution and rupture, the desocialisation created by turning the polis into a giant market of winners and losers. The tough answer to this is genuine social democracy, in which people have a social being not entirely defined by whether they’re a “winner” or a “loser”. The easy answer is to let the market rip, allow it to change the culture, and then seek to control and reshape people’s behaviour, selling it to them as “protecting the many against the few”.

Politically, this also serves as a way of outflanking the Right on the law and order issue, with a distinctive centre-left twist. The Right can talk about “throwing away the key”, “three strikes”, etc, sounding increasingly olde-worlde, while Labour can offer filters, ASBOs, CCTVs and so on, portraying themselves as both cutting-edge, high-tech, and hardline. And any objection concerning an open society from within its own ranks can be dealt with by reference back to the way in which “rights stopped Labour achieving real change” — high courts striking down tax laws etc etc.

The result — a party committed to a timid shadow of social democracy, waging a foreign imperial war, and trialling a world-standard setting system of secret censorship is obviously a force that is neither progressive, nor politically liberal nor left in any sense of the terms, and which has jumped wholly across to a space on the reactionary right (some might argue it always was, save for the period between the 60s and 90s, but that’s a historical discussion).

This stinks. I do not want my country to join North Korea, Thailand (which recently imprisoned an Australian writer for committing the heinous crime of criticising its royal family) and China on the list of the many countries in the world that are associated with such gross, inappropriate censorship and restrictions of peoples’ free speech. Generations of my own family risked their lives fighting imperialism & fascism in order to preserve our freedom to speak and seek whatever information we choose to. I voted against the Howard government in our last election partly because of its unapologetic cosying up to the repressive Bush regime (and partly because I always voted against the Howard government).

And the main thorn in the side of web-users is the inclusion of wikileaks, the site known for blowing the whistle on an ever-increasing number of things the corporate and political world would rather “we” didn’t know about. It raises both eyebrows and alarm bells that the government of a free, liberal democracy like Australia would seek to shield its populace from a website dedicated to the dissemination & discussion of hidden truths of the world. It also raises the obvious question: “what’s wrong with Wikileaks – got something to hide?”

The Crikey article referenced above made a good point regarding the end-run the Rudd Labour government is making around both peoples’ civil liberties and the opposition in Parliament: not only does this web blacklist appear cutting-edge and modern, satisfying peoples’ wishes that our generally white-haired, grey-suited government “get with it”, it also outdoes the opposition, the Liberal Party (our conservatives and often anything but “liberal” during the Howard era – or ever), on the old chestnuts of national security (laughably sidestepped by a comedy troupe during APEC) and the “won’t someone think of the children?” trope, which as we all know is code for “Christian values” which, further extrapolated, simply means “we, as conservative Christians get to tell everyone what to do regardless of whether you share our beliefs or not.” As an aside, you can bet the Liberals are cursing themselves for not thinking of this first, as it’s straight out of the Howard playbook.

Now, I just checked for some fresh news and it appears Stephen Conroy, our Communications Minister, has hit out at the leaked blacklist, saying that is was inaccurate.

I read with interest this response:

Internet freedom advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Association (EFA) earlier said the leaking of the list has confirmed their fears that the Government was creating a quick and easy database for dangerous sites.

“This was bound to happen, especially as mandatory filtering would require the list to be distributed to ISPs all around the country,” EFA vice-chair Colin Jacobs said.

“The Government is now in the unenviable business of compiling and distributing a list which includes salacious and illegal material and publicising those very sites to the world.”

This ACMA blacklist, whether Mr Conroy’s “real” one or the one that’s already been wikileaked, seems destined to be a Lonely Planet Guide to Where Not To Go On The Web for any enterprising keyboard-warrior of the kind that already has an interest in leaking the blacklist. In other words the government mandated net-nanny already seems destined to be a complete failure. Once implemented it will not take long for someone, somewhere, to find one of these blacklists and disseminate it. A truism of humanity is that once people know that there are places they’re not supposed to be, there will be people who will seek those places out purely because they know they’re not supposed to – and especially if they didn’t even know of the existence of those places beforehand! As well as being a complete failure, I can’t help but foresee that this blacklisting idiocy may well increase and exacerbate the very “problems”, whatever they are, that the government seeks to mitigate.

It’s infuriating that the people I voted for (indirectly, through preferences and simply through not voting Liberal) are treading ground that wouldn’t have looked out of place coming from former Liberal PM John Howard’s mid-1950’s conservatism. Similar to the US Democratic Party’s shift towards the right observed by many political commentators, our Labour party is shifting ever so slightly towards the same kind of wowser-like behaviour Australian voters repudiated at the most recent polls.

What this worrying farce reveals to me is that the young guns of Kevin Rudd’s Labour government are hopelessly, disappointingly naive regarding the realities of the web and hopelessly enamoured of the extent of their own power to control it. As hopelessly naive as I would have expected the Liberal Party backbone of bankers, businessmen and media barons to have been. That, or they’re as uncaring, secretive and wowserish as that Liberal Party indeed were for a dozen years.

Like I said, young people in this country were forced into killing other human beings & dying themselves, far too early & far too often, to protect our rights to free inquiry and free speech. That the Labour Party, nominally and traditionally the party of workers’ rights and social progression, would introduce and champion this shameful scheme, disgraces their memories. ANZAC (Australia & New Zealand Army Corps) Day – our Veterans Day, in which we commemorate the sacrifices of our service personnel both past & present – is coming up on April 25. It shits me to tears to think that Prime Minister Krudd would simultaneously support this repressive (and ultimately futile, therefore highly wasteful in terms of time & resources) blacklist bill while laying wreaths at our nation’s monuments – erected as memorials to sacrifices made to protect that which he now wishes to restrict.


To close, for my non-Australian brethren, my favourite definition of  “wowser” as provided by one of Australia’s favourite authors, C.J. Dennis:

Wowser: an ineffably pious person who mistakes this world for a penitentiary and himself for a warder.

Spot on, CJ, and completely appropriate in this case. CJ died many, many years before the internet was even a twinkle in DARPA’s eye but I’m quite confident he would have been just as shat as I am over this. I urge my American friends to start using this term as often as possible – I’m sure there’s no shortage of flamin’ mongrel wowsers in your country.


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Category: Censorship, Civil Rights, Communication, computers, Culture, Current Events, Internet, Media, Politics

About the Author ()

Hank was born of bird-watching bushwalking music-loving parents from whom he gained his love of nature, the universe & bicycles. Today he's a musician, non-profit aid worker, beagle keeper and fair & balanced internet commentator - but that just means he has a chip on each shoulder.

Comments (1)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Somebody please wake me up from this nightmare. I can't believe what I'm reading. Hank, I've been clicking around on the links you've provided. This is wretchingly terrible that the government is even considering a mandatory prohibited list of websites, with draconian enforcement power. These guys must absolutely be stopped. I thought that Scott Ludlam summed it up well:

    “I don’t think they know for themselves exactly how this is going to work. My personal opinion is that it’s probably going to fail, and if it doesn’t fail it’s going to be dangerous,” Ludlam said.

    Good luck on reversing this government intrusion. Filters? Yes, by all means, for people who choose to have them. Never should content be filtered mandatorily by the government, however. What ultimately will disappear will be criticism of the government, and we need big doses of that every day to battle totalitarianism.

    And thank you so VERY much for that new word (for me, new): wowser. It's a terrific word and I WILL add it to my daily vocabulary. It's the best new word I've learned since I learned the word "paltering."

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