Yet more on Australian censorship

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About a decade ago there was a case involving a student newspaper, an article called “The Art of Shoplifting” and the ACMA. A good account of it can be found at “Courts may shoplift free speech” but briefly, the article was Refused Classification (RC) and the authors had some legal trouble.

Currently, the Australian government plans to implement mandatory ISP level filtering to block URLs displaying RC material. There is a long list of objections to this open ended plan to censor the internet, ranging from the technical through to the philosophical. Almost all of these points have been explained in detail elsewhere.

There is one point that does deserve more attention:  are broadcast media standards relevant online?

Assuming for a moment that the filter does not impact user experience, only blocks RC content and cannot be circumvented, it would still a very bad idea.

The problem is in what content can be RC, how people actually use the internet and how content can be shared, and aggregated. Laws regarding classification were made for a world where media could not spread easily. When ‘The Art of Shoplifting’ was published it could not be posted to a blog, copied onto publicly visible personal spaces, distributed via RSS to multiple aggregators or appear listed on or

The conversation generated by the article is also now visible, where in the past it would not have been noticed, or searchable. Not only is interpersonal discussion now visible and spread through multiple forums, it can also take multiple formats, from text, to images, audio and even video.

Publication is synonymous with conversation online, and it now takes advantage of all the new accessible tools. Video,
images and audio are as much a part of interpersonal communication online as the written word. The very nature of conversation has fundamentally changed since those laws were penned.

Now that it is visible online, does this mean that discussions on euthanasia will now be subject to an ISP level banstick? How about religion – will this involve anti-vilification laws simply because it happened on Twitter rather than at the pub or via SMS?

People will always be people, even when they are online. Actually, people will be people especially when they are online and assume a certain level of anonymity. Under Australian law, exactly how much of this activity will be potentially liable to legal sanction? Once the infrastructure is in place to remove URLs from an Australian internet, I fear we will find out, and some people may be rather surprised.

One response to “Yet more on Australian censorship”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by anthony contoleon, Anthony. Anthony said: Yet more on Australian censorship: About a decade ago there was a case involving a student newspaper,… […]

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