Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) today slammed a Bill introduced into the Senate which would give members of the Australian Federal Police powers to ban access to Internet content.
The Communications Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content) Bill 2007 would, if enacted, give senior members of the Australian Federal Police powers to ban access to Internet content which they "have reason to believe":
- encourages, incites, or induces the commission of a Commonwealth offence; or
- was published in part to facilitate the commission of such an offence; or
- that it is likely to have the effect of facilitating the commission of such an offence.
"This Bill is another step in Australia's descent into a police state," said EFA Chairperson Dale Clapperton. "It will give sweeping and unchecked powers to the Federal Police to ban access to Internet material by decree. There is no place for these powers in a liberal democracy such as Australia."
The powers granted by the Bill, which can be delegated to senior members of the Federal Police, have an unacceptably low threshold test, requiring merely that the person "have reason to believe" that the material falls into one of the classes set out above.
"This 'reason to believe' could be based on material that would be inadmissible in a court of law, obtained unlawfully, or on rumour, innuendo, or gossip," Clapperton continued. "There are no provisions in the Bill for an appeal or review of a decision by the police to ban access to material. The operations of police agencies which affect the rights of individuals should always be subject to judicial oversight. The mistakes made by the Federal Police during the Haneef debacle demonstrate that the police are not infallible and that the courts play a vital role in protecting the rights of individuals."
"There are already mechanisms available for the police and the government to deal with Internet content that is illegal," Clapperton said. "The Federal Police do not require and should not have the power to ban access to Internet material merely because of what they 'believe' about it."
"This legislation has nothing to do with terrorism. Its powers apply to all offences under a law of the Commonwealth - even copyright infringement. The reference to 'terrorism related Internet content' is a transparent attempt to deter criticism of the substance of the Bill."
EFA strongly believes that any powers which would restrict the freedom of speech of individuals should only be available in extraordinary circumstances and where there are procedures for ensuring accountability and judicial oversight in place.
"These laws will be open to massive abuses by the police. They could, for example, be used to prevent access to websites organising protest marches or rallies against the government, or advocating for the legalisation of euthanasia. To the extent that this legislation allows the police to ban access to material discussing political matters, it is probably unconstitutional."
EFA urges the Australian Government to abandon this poorly reasoned Bill.
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- Background information
- Contact details for media
Text of the Communications Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content) Bill 2007:
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc. ("EFA") is a non-profit national organisation representing Internet users concerned with on-line rights and freedoms. EFA was established in 1994, is independent of government and commerce, and is funded by membership subscriptions and donations from individuals and organisations with an altruistic interest in promoting online civil liberties.
Mr Dale Clapperton
Phone: 0416 007 100
Email: dclapperton at efa.org.au