U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday delivered an important, wide-ranging speech on the subject of Internet freedom. Coming on the heels of the Chinese cyber-attacks on Google and other U.S. companies, and the increasing use of online censorship by authoritarian governments around the world, the speech draws a line in the sand and presents the USA as the global champion of online openness.

Secretary Clinton Recognised that free access to information online is just as important in the modern age as the right to use a printing press was in earlier times. The ability to communicate with others over the net is as important, now, as the right to assemble and discuss politics ever was offline. Said Clinton, "The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you’re on the internet, you don’t need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society."

EFA applauds this tough and unambiguous stance by the US and finds it a heartening and welcome development in a time where the trend seems all to often to be heading in the other direction. The United States' undertaking to help foster technology that individuals can use to climb the walls of censorship is an intriguing development that could prove very interesting to watch.

Unfortunately, our own record here in Australia on the subject has been lacklustre of late with a bill being prepared as we speak to introduce mandatory censorship of all Australian Internet connections. The timing of Google's announcements and Secretary Clinton's speech must be seen as inconvenient for the Government whose allies on the side of Internet censorship are not a bunch it pays to be seen to associate with.

Perhaps to counter this negative perception, the Government today endorsed the Clinton speech, but have done so in a way that can only be described as highly ironic and not a little self-serving. In a media release supporting the move, Senator Conroy spent the first half promoting the Government's National Broadband Network, and the second half defending their mandatory filtering policy. Beginning with "The Rudd Government also agrees with Secretary Clinton’s observation that ‘all societies recognise that freedom of expression has its limits’," Conroy then goes on to raise alarm about the nastiest of nasty content.

This is a cynical twisting of Clinton's words by a Minister on the defensive. To use a speech that includes the lines "governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other" and "censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere" to justify a censorship policy is nothing if not brazen. Clinton's words are worth reading in context:

Now, all societies recognize that free expression has its limits. We do not tolerate those who incite others to violence, such as the agents of al-Qaida who are, at this moment, using the internet to promote the mass murder of innocent people across the world. And hate speech that targets individuals on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is reprehensible. It is an unfortunate fact that these issues are both growing challenges that the international community must confront together. And we must also grapple with the issue of anonymous speech. Those who use the internet to recruit terrorists or distribute stolen intellectual property cannot divorce their online actions from their real world identities. But these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the internet for peaceful political purposes.

It's clear from their announcement that the Government sees this speech as inconvenient rather than uplifting. We at EFA think that's a shame, but thankfully, we think the Australian people with feel otherwise.

9 comments

  1. Note that Clinton made mention of the video footage of Iranian woman Neda Agha-Soltan's death in the June 2009 protests after the election and how it showed the world what was going on there. And what to did ACMA do with that video? They blacklisted it; http://www.orzeszek.org/blog/2009/08/28/acma-blac...

    Comment by Matthew on 23 January 2010 at 2:12 am
  2. I'm concerned that ACMA will effectively only be able to censor stuff of a political nature (like this.) The web moves far too fast for them to effectively catch anything but what's making headlines, and that's my greatest fear in this whole debacle.

    Even then, a 64 day turnaround is effectively a lifetime on the Internet, by which time any perceived damage will already have been done. I'm just disgusted with the politicians involved in this, and flabbergasted that anyone could possibly think it's a concept worth investing in.

    Comment by Ash on 23 January 2010 at 4:45 am
  3. As I explained here:
    http://www.itnews.com.au/News/163063,commentary-w...
    The only stuff that'll get onto the blacklist is legal stuff which gives moralizing busybodies conniptions.

    There won't be any child porn on it because the Government will be dead-set terrified about what'll happen if the blacklist leaks.

    There won't be anything important from law enforcement bodies on the list for the same reason.

    There won't be any domestic illegal stuff on it because that'll be taken down as part of the investigation/conviction process.

    So all it'll be left with is legal content that can't be classified R18+/X18+. That's what Refused Classification means.

    We know exactly what'll end up in that bucket, because Conroy has answered questions in the Parliament from Ludlam about it: Euthanasia information, anti-abortion propaganda, computer games. The CSU/UNSW study released in mid December also identified safe sex educational materials, safe injecting educational materials, and other unpopular political views.

    The Bill Henson episode shows us exactly how the process works: Someone gets their panties in a twist about something they don't like, and the very first thing they do is to go running off to the Classification Board to get it declared RC.

    That's how the system works. That's how the system is INTENDED to work. The PURPOSE of the RC rating is to enable outraged nutters to suppress items that can't be declared "illegal."

    - mark

    Comment by Mark Newton on 23 January 2010 at 4:54 am
  4. @Mark Newton

    Don't forget all the Computer game websites for games that are above MA15, because those are automatically "Refused Classification".

    I can't see why people aren't making noise about RC blacklisting related to computer games, RC material is grounds for blacklisting, many games are RC, therefore moralizing busybodies are perfectly legitimate if they want to request blacklists for RC game websites, no ?

    This means, Aliens Vs Predator 2 website is RC - right? because it promotes the distribution and sale of RC content. As does foreign shops which ship oversears..

    Comment by Tezza on 25 January 2010 at 2:24 am
  5. Oh, yes. And plenty of other categories.

    Like films that adults in every other country in the world can enjoy and debate: Baise Moi, Ken Park, Salo. To say nothing of locally produced content like the 70K Crew's graffiti film that was pulled from the Melbourne Film Festival in 2007 after being Reused Classification.

    People like Conroy and Wallace carry on as if it's perfectly natural that RC content should be banned, but they gloss over the fact that the RC category is wholly unique to Australia. Rather than banning it we should be taking a good hard look at whether or not the categorization should exist.

    What purpose is a "legal but we really want you to behave as if it's illegal" category really serving in our society, other than to give voice and succor to a screeching, howling, shirt-rending minority, the Australian Taliban who'd ban everything they don't agree with if given a chance, and who spend their lives railing against our censorship system because it isn't strict enough for them?

    - mark

    Comment by Mark Newton on 25 January 2010 at 9:50 am
  6. RC films are well understood.

    RC games getting on the blacklist is something that I think would gain attention.

    Banning access to Left 4 Dead 2 website while it was RC, imagine that.

    Comment by Tezza on 26 January 2010 at 12:20 am
  7. Okay, so RC means that there won't be able to be any internet advertising of movies, tv programs, in fact anything, that hasn't yet been classified (because it may be refused classification) or which has been classified as RC? By it's very nature, that must then mean that print media and television advertising of 'not yet classified' material MUST be illegal as well - because you can't censor something simply on one medium. Looks like grounds for a good test case before the courts. Here's the scary thing for games, though - many many games have the ability to be modded (as we know), and that may well consist of RC material, which means that the games sites, the forums, Games for Windows Live, Windows Live itself, Steam, etc, are potentially likely to be on the banned site list. Extreme? Yes. But that won't stop them....

    Comment by The patriot... on 29 January 2010 at 6:06 pm
  8. I think Hilary Clinton should be the last person to talk about free speech or anything of that nature. The US administration has been using free speech and human rights to muzzle their enemies.

    The US jails are full of victims of hunger crimes and they are from the predictable communities i.e. Black, Hispanics and poor Whites who can not afford a good lawyer.

    Yahoo Question and Answers and media outlets in general are more example of lack of free speech in America.

    Comment by Faruque Ahmed on 13 February 2010 at 9:01 am
  9. I am more suspicious of USA as they have been undermining many secular nationalist movements around the world in favor of religious extremists. Recent trend of USA i.e. exporting democracy and free speech by gun is further reason to distrust American policy and commitment.

    Comment by Faruque Ahmed on 14 February 2010 at 2:25 am