EFA's web hosting provider was today the recipient of a Link Deletion notice from ACMA for an article on our web site ironically entitled "Net censorship already having a chilling effect". The original article included a link to a page at abortiontv.com that includes graphic images and was previously added to ACMA's blacklist for being "R-18+"-level material. (For more information on the ACMA net censorship system, see here and here.)

There are many reasons why this should alarm Australian net users. Most significantly, the link was part of a political discussion about the merits of the existing and future Internet censorship policies. The link was offered as a demonstration of the sorts of controversial content that could and would be included in any such proposal. No "offensive" material was included on our site itself. Nevertheless, we were forced to remove the link on pain of severe penalties.

To be clear, EFA published only a link to a page that is hosted overseas and is on ACMA's prohibited list. Viewing the potentially R-rated page itself is not in any way illegal, and no system is yet in place to enforce the blocking of such web pages. One may well wonder why a link to a legally viewable page should draw the threat of legal sanction while the content itself remains visible. Because the link was on a web page hosted in Australia, the hosting provider - not EFA ourselves, who have more control over the content - falls under Australian legal jurisdiction and could be so served. What this accomplishes is uncertain.

This system, which costs Australian taxpayers millions each year, is clearly unworkable. Because the content is hosted overseas, it remains untouched by ACMA's directives. Any links or commentary on prohibited content can be protected by the simple expedient of posting it on a web site hosted overseas. No letters from the Australian media regulator, issued months after complaints are filed, will reduce the availability of such material. If a link to a prohibited page is not allowed, what about a link to a link? At what number of hops does a hyperlink become acceptable?

This is a textbook case that demonstrates that there is no sharp dividing line between "political" speech and other content. At the edges of public policy are issues which will inflame passions and lead to images, video and words that are offensive to many people. Trying to stamp these out, especially on the Internet, not only diminishes our democracy but is pointless and paternalistic to boot.

On the Internet, a discussion about some information is often barely distinguishable from the information itself. The current ACMA censorship regime accomplishes little apart from achieving a Howard-era political objective, and makes it clear how far behind the curve political thinking is when it comes to the technical realities of the Internet. We now seem set to move to a new stage where the perceived shortcomings of the current system are to be remedied by legislation making the blocking of overseas content mandatory. It goes without saying that such a block will be easily circumvented by those with the motivation, and material of genuine political interest will find a way to proliferate despite the ban. It is average Australians who will be left wondering what they should and should not be viewing, and not know what controversial material has been deemed unacceptable by the censors.

With fines of up to $11,000 per day threatened against our hosting provider, we have little choice but to comply with ACMA's directive. However, we are investigating an appeal of the order on the grounds that it stifles a legitimate political discussion on the merits of the Government's internet censorship policies.

Full text of the LDN here.


  1. Pingback: ACMA issues EFA with Link Deletion Notice - Somebody Think Of The Children

  2. Pingback: EFA links removal notice - a free speech analysis | EFA

  3. Pingback: Classification Board Classifies AbortionTV R 18+

  4. what about a linking service to a link?
    [ed: redacted for the moment. We are complying with the letter of the law, and will examine our options. Until then, I will remove any links to the AbortionTV material. -nic]
    *disclaimer - the above links to abortiontv page 6 (contains photos of aborted babies), if you are squeemish or have just eaten DO NOT click the link.

    Comment by (Censored) on 6 May 2009 at 03:22
  5. what about google cache?
    technically this link isn't to abortiontv page 6, it's to a tinyurl link to google cache and won't even resolve at abortiontv page 6
    [ed: redacted for the moment. We are complying with the letter of the law, and will examine our options. Until then, I will remove any links to the AbortionTV material. -nic]

    Comment by (Censored) on 6 May 2009 at 03:27
  6. That happened pretty quick. And it's a pity you can't stand your ground against the $11,000 per day threat at the first point but we know that most service providers no matter how well they support you can only watch your back so long before the possibility of that kind of money gets to much.

    The link to a post about a theory about a link thing is pretty sad it got you in trouble. As you said, before you took your link down if i had mentioned this on a site and had a blog and linked here, would they have sent me a letter?

    Comment by Liam on 6 May 2009 at 04:31
  7. I personally would've looked at mirroring the page on an American page, that's one simple way of getting past this rediculous set of Antiquated laws we have to deal with in this country.

    Comment by Myzteriouz1 on 6 May 2009 at 05:23
  8. Why do people host web pages in Australia anyway? There does not appear to be any significant advantage, only attacks from the Nazi party.

    Comment by Dan on 6 May 2009 at 06:32
  9. The LDN also contains a copy of the link - will that have to be removed (or hosted offshore) as well?

    Comment by James on 6 May 2009 at 08:35
  10. Quick. I wondered what took them so long and thought they must have chickened out. When you say you're looking at your options, I'd have thought you would have had the initiating process for a constitutional writ drawn up ready for this action. The High Court must be chomping at the bit to hear this one.

    Comment by Anonymous on 6 May 2009 at 08:53
  11. @James I wonder whether the link in the PDF will be an issue as well, the thing is no one knows. The ACMA should publish a linking guideline document to help webmaster's but don't to the best of my knowledge.

    Although I have posted the URL encoded in an image, as well as a plain text (non-hyperlinked) URL I don't know for sure that this may not be subject to a link deletion notice.

    In fact the ACMA should publish a web publishing guideline covering issues like removing all blank pages under websites so the Russian mob can't hack them as well as other best practices. :)

    Comment by CW on 6 May 2009 at 20:39
  12. What happens if you get fined, but don't pay the fine? Is it at all possible that EFA staff could be jailed. It would be political suicide for a Minister, or even the Government, to have someone jailed over this. Any volunteers?

    Comment by Kristian on 6 May 2009 at 23:35
  13. The fines aren't enforceable, you can't just invent some crap and expect to enforce it. This is just a Cease and Desist letter they would still have to go to court.

    Comment by Dan on 7 May 2009 at 05:44
  14. What if I wrote a script that generated URLs based on a mathematical formula.

    Say if I generated all the possible .com addresses using 12 alphabetical characters. So that would be 26^12 possibilities, 95.5 trillion. Of course you couldn't display all the URLs at once, but the code to generate the URLs would be pretty small. And if you coded it in javascript then actually the URL is being generated in the client's browser, so the URL itself is not being distributed. So then you might say to your visitor: run this javascript and visit the 23,382,498,389,201th URL. Would that be distributing an 'illegal' URL? Could they fine you for that? Afterall, nobody is forcing the end user to run the script, so surely they must be take the responsibility for visiting the 'illegal' site, not the host. But in any case, surely the ban list must become a public document, and thus anybody could refer to it and say the 8th URL on the ban list, the 48th URL on the ban list and so on.

    But in any case, I am all in favour of the EFA challenging ACMA in court, to see if any magistrate will uphold the fines. Please let me know if I can help you with this.

    How do these ACMA morons live with themselves...

    Comment by A H on 7 May 2009 at 08:44
  15. I'll be glad to test the link service link - (if it's OK with the EFA) http://fremnet.net/article/263/the-efa-link - I'm not sure they can ask me to take down a link that links to a site - it's like them asking efa to take down the link I just pasted above.

    Comment by Freman on 7 May 2009 at 09:04
  16. Kristian, the link deletion notice was sent to our hosting provider, so the fines would put them out of business rather than allowing EFA to make a point. (And I doubt everyone on the board is in a position to go to prison over this.)

    Comment by Danny Yee on 7 May 2009 at 09:14
  17. A H asked how the ACMA morons live with themselves?

    I think it's pretty simple how they do. The ACMA is full of people who do not represent the wider community. They have very small minds which see the world in black and white and because they are not answerable to the Australian people, feel that is their right to make decisions on what is acceptable and what isn't.

    So much for the Federal Labor party being in Government. I won't be voting for them again. Can anyone else say "one term government"?

    Comment by Robby on 8 May 2009 at 00:18
  18. I have reason to suspect that at least one of the tinyurls that meet the pattern:


    where the * represents a letter 'a', 'b', or 'c', would be illegal to link to.

    Yet it only points to an "I'm feeling lucky" search of a few select keywords (I won't list them here, as I'm not even sure if you're allowed to do that) which when I typed them in to Google earlier today, returned a banned website.

    Even wording this post as I have, I still find myself wondering if it contains any illegal information. Causing EFA grief (the notion that a user leaving comments is capable of that is ridiculous, but carry on) is really not my intention.

    Comment by Alex on 8 May 2009 at 05:04
  19. So what if you frame the over-seas content?

    Or if that isn't enough, use a URL shortening service (If that isn't enough how about running the short URL through several URL shorteners?) that isn't in Aus, host a page with the hyper link somewhere outside Aus and frame the page with the hyperlink...

    If that isn't enough how about running the short URL through several URL shorteners?

    I see a pattern emerging in the supposedly developed nations with regulators mandating how we can use the internet without any real understanding of how it all works... The EU are deciding that right now with the Telecoms Package, and given the green light to the UK gov under the data retention act to store what you do on the net for 2 years.

    Don't worry though! They will make it illegal to circumvent their lame restrictions when they realise that it doesn't actually stop anyone able to type VPN or Tor into google.

    When it gets to that stage it will be illegal to even talk or think about google...

    Comment by Not in Australia on 8 May 2009 at 05:58
  20. "How do these ACMA morons live with themselves…"

    That's the power of ignorance.

    Comment by Dan on 8 May 2009 at 06:58
  21. There are very many discussion forums overseas looking at Australia's censorship regime right now (and laughing at us I might add). Since our goverment is no longer listening to the voice of the people the time for legitimate protest and negotiation has passed.

    Consequently, I am now engaging in acts of open, civil defiance in this regard. I am posting links to known banned sites (including the abortiontv site) in every such overseas forum I come across. I am also posting links to Torproject.org and other circumvention technologies. If I am caught and fined, I will refuse to pay. If officers show up at my door to confiscate my possessions to pay the fine, I will torch the lot rather than let them have it. If I end up in prison for that, so be it. If we don't fight back like this, this whole country will end up being a prison anyway. Freedom was never achieved by merely complaining about dictators; it is only ever achieved by self-sacrifice and by outright resistance to them. The more of us are willing to stick our necks out like this and stand up for it, the bigger the problem these fascists will have. They can't jail the entire population!

    Comment by FreedomFighter on 8 May 2009 at 21:49
  22. I am not laughing at what is going on in Aus re net censorship. I am genuinely concerned. What one rational nation gets away with leaves others justifying the same measure with the usual political rhetoric...

    "We have been looking closely at -Insert_country_here- and the benefits far out weigh -Insert_comment_about_giving_up_your_freedom- because -Insert_comment_about_paedophiles_or_terrorists_or_national_security-"

    Perhaps we should be looking at setting up mutual end points all across the globe. Perhaps as part of the terminating equipment (i.e. Adsl modem/router or Cable Router) or virtual ISPs. Instead getting out on the net from our ISP, we establish VPN connection(s) to someone else's (1 or more) router(s) or virtual ISPs and you use the net from their equipment via their ISP.

    Unless we are all made legally responsible for the traffic that flows over our own terminating equipment, and this assumes that we could somehow account for those nasty botnets/trojans etc that could also be doing illegal things on the net using your computer & connection or when you accidentally enable your WiFi as open and your neighbours connect, then how could a cause for anything be brought against you without reasonable doubt?

    The worrying thing here is that it may well come to the stage where ignorance is no defence and you are held accountable for everything that passes over your internet connection. Ironically this is likely to come about due to the ignorance of those who seek to legislate and regulate the internet, albeit the physical part that exists within their boundaries.

    Comment by Not in Australia on 9 May 2009 at 05:58
  23. Pingback: Aussie censors block links to links!-The Register « FACT – Freedom Against Censorship Thailand

  24. Why don't you just provide a plain text copy of the URL of the "link" that the censors are trying to suppress? Surely Australians can be trained to select such textual material and manualy copy it into the address bar of their browser, if they actually do wish to reach the material?

    Or does the tyrannical Australian government also claim that nobody can even TALK ABOUT material that they deem offensive?

    Surely you could say that at a site called Abortion TV dot com, there exist videos. You could even say that such-and-such a video exists at a page called foobar.html within that site. Would it be too much to put those two together and state that abortiontv.com/foobar.html contains some material of interest to those who study censorship in Australia? I can see that you would be a criminal and beyond the pale of a civilized society if you surrounded that statement with a less-than sign and an "a href=" string, but surely you have enough of a conscience that you would NEVER, EVER do that. At least not after receiving a notice from the bully-boys with the filthy minds.

    If you plan to challenge the law, I also recommend moving your website to your own server, so that there are no third-parties in the way. Then all decisions will be your own, and all potential penalties will be your own.

    Comment by John Gilmore on 10 May 2009 at 16:36
  25. "Or does the tyrannical Australian government also claim that nobody can even TALK ABOUT material that they deem offensive?"

    What's the purpose of censorship? (Rhetorical)

    Comment by Dan on 10 May 2009 at 19:07
  26. Pingback: SENG4921 – Lec 10 – Censorship, Internet content classification, ISP-level filtering and the interests of young people « Andrew Harvey’s Blog

  27. Option 1.

    I'd suggest creating a Google Adsense account and a Google Adwords account.
    Place an Adsense link unit or an Adsense ad box on the page where the link was and then use Adwords to run a targeted campaign only on the EFA site.

    It would probably cost you about 20 cents a click or about 5$ for 1000 page views depending on the type of advertising campaign, to have your ad for abortiontv's page shown.

    Option 2.
    This way, you're not writing the link on the page, it's Google who does.

    You could also use an iframe element which would load in a square a page that's on a server outside Australia, which in turn only shows the link to that page.

    Option 3.

    Create a Flash object that shows the URL without "http" in a text field, a button and a text saying "if you want to visit the site, add http in front of the text and push the button. I don't think a flash object classifies as a link, as the source page (the document) does not contain the words and the address.

    Comment by marius on 29 May 2009 at 22:44
  28. This government intrusion and arrogance is sickening.

    Good luck EFA and supporters in fighting Conroy and the ALP on this.

    Even if you succeed, the battle will not be over. We need a Bill of Rights, and we need it now, and we need Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights embedded deep in it.

    Comment by sean on 21 April 2010 at 19:39