Net censorship already having a chilling effect

Before the Government’s mandatory filter is even in place, the potential chilling effect of even the current net censorship regime was felt today when Whirlpool’s hosting provider received a take-down notice from ACMA because of a page that links to a another site on the current ACMA blacklist. Given the steep penalties, up to $11,000 per day, it’s hard to fault the host and Whirlpool for taking this seriously and complying.

It may come as a surprise to a few that Australia’s internet is already censored like this. Under the current scheme, when ACMA receives a complaint about a website, they determine whether it should be prohibited by subjecting it to analysis under the Classification Board’s classification regime. Material that would be refused classification, rated X-18+, or rated R-18+ (when not age-protected) is added to a blacklist provided to filter vendors. When offending material is hosted in Australia, however, ACMA has the power to compel the site or its hosts to remove the offending pages. More information on the current blacklist can be found in EFA’s summary.

Of course, the current regime turns out to be merely the tip of the iceberg as the system expands and we move into the era of mandatory filtering conducted by ISPs against all Australian internet users.

The page linked to on Whirlpool, which can be found [REDACTED. The original title of the page was “AbortionTV Pictures #6”, and can presumably be found using major search engines.] (warning: graphic content) is itself controversial, as it is from an anti-abortion web site. This demonstrates not only that the blacklist targets a wider range of material than child abuse (where the Minister’s rhetoric has been focused) but also that the lines between art, obscenity and political speech are not as bright and clear as politicians would have us imagine. The initial complaint that caused the site to be blacklisted was made by a Whirlpool user, and discussion there was clearly within a political context – a discussion of censorship itself. Because of the high penalties, web and forum hosts are going to rush to comply even when they might have a case that the material was incorrectly classified, taken out of context, or was merely a link and does not constitute prohibited material. Viewing or possession RC content is not in itself illegal unless the content falls afoul of some other statute, such as those governing child-abuse material.

Despite the Minster’s (ridiculous) assertions that he means well and we should take it on faith that the filter will be effective and benign, this latest episode demonstrates how serious run-ins with the censors can be, that it does not only happen to purveyors of the ‘filth’ politicians rail against. These sorts of incidents will multiply as mandatory filtering is introduced, more controversial content is prohibited, and mirroring, linking and circumvention become common.

Hopefully ACMA’s heavy-handed action will also demonstrate the futility of censoring a medium where web pages spring up by the thousands every second and information is copied at a furious pace.

Edit 05 May 2009: In compliance with a take-down notice issued by ACMA, EFA has removed the link to AbortionTV in this post.

18 Responses

  1. Pingback: ACMA forces Whirlpool to remove link to banned anti-abortion web page - Somebody Think Of The Children
  2. Pingback: ACMA: Linking to blacklisted sites will cost you $11,000 a day. | OzSoapbox
  3. "…he means well…" Stephen Connroy's internet storm trooper's stomping all over Australian citizen's opinions and views, it is pathetic and disgusting.

  4. "The initial complaint that caused the site to be blacklisted was made by a Whirlpool user, and discussion there was clearly within a political context – a discussion of censorship itself." WHile that may be true, it is irrelevant. Censorship can be discussed without providing a link to an ACMA blacklisted site. The ACMA objected to THE LINK, not the discussion around the link.

  5. This is why I have ALL my websites hosted outside of Australia, the filter is intended to stop free-speech advocates such as myself from reaching the Australian population which is of course my primary audience.

    It's bullshit like this that prevents large service providers such as Google and Yahoo from bringing IT jobs to Australia.

  6. Pingback: Pookie’s Diary » Blog Archive » ACMA Censorship gone MAD
  7. I find ACMA more disgusting than the abortion pictures, which don't disturb me at all.

  8. So have you guys received any threats of fines from ACMA about the link in this post?

    I'd be interested to hear if they follow through with action and how they would react to it being defended.

  9. For your information:

    Complaint Reference Number: ACMA-1514302352
    Title: Mr
    First Name: Declan
    Last Name:
    Email: [email protected]
    ISP Name:
    Australian Resident: Yes
    Date: 18/03/2009 03:12:06 AM
    IP Address:
    Content Type: WorldWideWeb
    Internet Address:
    Content Description: The website contains a link to images which are apparently photos of an aborted fetus.
    Access Instruction: No passwords are required. The Electronic Frontiers Australia site ( (either by following links from numerous media articles or searching online) homepage has a headline reading "Net censorship already having a chilling effect". Clicking the headline leads to an article containing a link to Abortion TV (edit: REDACTED)
    Reason for Complaint: According to ACMA complaint 2009000009/ ACMA-691604278, the material at Abortion TV qualifies as prohibited content.

  10. I'm already posting the link to that anti-abortion site, with an explanatory note, on every overseas-hosted forum I'm a member of, and encouraging other members to do the same in any forums they're members of. Some of my threads have already become lists which will be updated as more banned sites come to light. I won't link to it here because EFA don't need any more trouble :) but I think it's time for some serious revolutionary defiance here. No, I won't be paying any fines, and I will be defending my freedom. Make of that what you will.

  11. How come the link is still on this page? Is EFA copping the $11,000/day fine?

  12. Pingback: ACMA censors, Australians protest | Internet Filtering Monitor
  13. What are the criteria and process to black list a link or material?
    Who is the mighty power to black list a link or material?
    What is the track record of ‘the mighty power’ who can black list a link or martial?

  14. If the black list includes racist, Jew-hating websites then Faruque Ahmed is in a lot of trouble. His odious 'Free America Now' Jew-bashing, Nazi-promoting slime-fest would deserve to be towards the top of the list.

  15. Faruque Hunter,

    Are you proud to be a party to and supporter of the most painful and slow motion Israeli Holocaust in the occupied Palestine? Do you support the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Arabs (Christians and Muslims)?

    Have you ever spoke up against the longest running concentration camps known to mankind in the occupied Palestine with a stamp of infinity? How do you think the Israeli ethnic cleansing is justified and Hitler’s one is not!

    Since when and under what moral, law and authority, pointing out Israeli war crimes and genocides is an offense?

  16. Faruque Ahmed,

    You accuse me of all kinds of beliefs vis-a-vis Israel without knowing whether I actually hold such beliefs. This strongly suggests that you are less than rational in your thinking and your methods.

    You claim that Israel is perpetrating "Holocaust" and "genocide" against the Arabs. If this is true then where are the extermination camps? Where is the evidence that an Israeli policy of genocide (which means the deliberate extermination of a race of people) exists? And why is Israel so spectacularly unsuccessful in carrying out this supposed policy, as evidenced by the fact that the number of Israeli citizens who are Arabs is just under a million and rising?

    The facts are that there is no evidence for any of your wild claims, they are all products of your very fertile imagination. And by the way, the "longest running concentration camps known to mankind" are not in "occupied Palestine", as you claim, they're in Lebanon.

    If you want to highlight the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, which is a serious abrogation of their will to self-determination, then do so utilising facts and rational arguments not fantasy, fabrication and stupid lies. If you continue with your lunatic methods people will have little choice but to regard you as a lunatic.

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