EFA Chair Nic Suzor explains EFA's ongoing struggle to defend civil liberties online, in the first of a series of blog posts on the importance of online civil liberties as part of EFA's 2010 Fundraising Campaign ...

I am very excited to announce the start of EFA's fundraising campaign for 2010. We are asking for your assistance in our ongoing struggle to defend civil liberties online and work for sensible regulatory technology and communications policy. With your help, we can continue to represent the interests of individuals in an environment that is increasingly dominated by private industry on the one hand and misguided government regulation on the other. I believe that EFA plays a fundamentally important role in ensuring that both government and industry are informed of user interests and are accountable to the Australian public.

I am very proud to have been the Chair of EFA for the last few years. The EFA has a long tradition of engaging with the development technological policy in Australia and fighting for the rights of individuals to access the great benefits that the internet brings to our society. Formed in 1994, the EFA has constantly been active in educating and lobbying government and industry since the early days of the World Wide Web and the consumer Internet. At every stage where well-intentioned but misguided public officials have attempted to come to grips with how these new technologies should be regulated, EFA has been there to offer advice and constructive criticism.

Performing this role is more important now than it ever has been. The Internet provides a crucial channel for communication that grows in importance to a growing proportion of Australians every day. We use this technology for our business, for education, for political discussion, for personal communication, and for entertainment. The Internet has transformed our world as we know it, and the rate of change is only increasing. Given the fundamental importance of the Internet to our society, the choices that we make about how it should be regulated are also of fundamental importance.

Most visibly in the past two years EFA has been campaigning against the introduction of mandatory ISP filtering. We have pointed out and continue to argue that the Government's approach will not improve safety for children, will not help to bring criminals to justice, will cost a lot of money, and will pose a real threat to legitimate freedom of expression online. We think that the Government should focus on real workable responses to increasing security online (like funding education, police, and child support services) rather than attempting to apply a classification scheme designed to regulate television stations, book stores and public libraries to the vastly different environment of the internet. This has been a tough fight, but we have been making real progress.

Mandatory filtering is not all we are concerned about, however. Most recently, we have campaigned for the introduction of an R18+ rating for computer games. Australia is the only western democracy to ban games that are not suitable for children. We engaged with AusGamers and the community to put forward a strong submission supporting the introduction of an adult rating. We argued that Australians deserve to be treated like adults and pointed out that an R18+ rating would bring Australian game classification in-line with film classification domestically and game classification world wide. We believe that this is crucial to empower parents and adult gamers to make appropriate decisions about the games they play and allow their children to play. We are extremely heartened to see that over 55,000 submissions were received to this enquiry - we hope that now the Australian Federal, State, and Territory Governments will listen to the overwhelming community support for the introduction of an adult rating for games.

In addition to classification and censorship issues, we are very active in the continuing debate about the appropriate scope of Australia's intellectual property regime. We lobbied to raise awareness about the raw deal that Australia received as part of the Australia - US Free Trade Agreement, taking many of the harshest measures of US copyright law without the liberating effect of the open-ended fair use defence. More recently we have been working to raise awareness about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a secret treaty that would further entrench harsh civil and criminal enforcement mechanisms amongst the countries that sign up, bypassing the much more legitimate procedures of the World Intellectual Property Organisation. We continue to lobby for sensible copyright regulations - from arguing against harsh criminal sanctions to arguing for simple measures like a format shifting right that would allow Australians to copy movies they own onto portable devices.

At EFA we also deal with a large range of other issues that affect individuals online. We monitor threats to freedom of speech posed by defamation law, and particularly the chilling effects that allegations of defamation can have on the hosts of websites and their service providers. In several instances we have been able to obtain legal representation for these providers in order to help them fight suits that would silence critical speech. We maintain representation on the Executive Committee of ICANN's Non-Commercial Users Constituency, working to promote the global public interest in the development of ICANN's policy. Most importantly, we provide information resources and a reasoned voice in the panics and scandals that erupt over the use of the internet - we work hard to help people understand the complexities of internet regulation and the ways in which individuals can protect themselves online.

Over the last three years, EFA has operated as a volunteer-run organisation; myself and the rest of the EFA Board serve in a purely voluntary capacity. In past years and in recent months, we have had the resources to employ people to assist in our campaigns. We hope to be able to continue to grow our impact as an organisation, and in order to do so, we need your help. We are independent of any Government or private organisations, and rely wholly on donations for our funding. Your money will be spent in several main ways:

  • Funding staff on an ongoing or project-specific basis;
  • Covering expenses for design and campaign advertising;¬†and
  • Limited travel expenses to allow us to attend consultation meetings.

If you decide to become an EFA member, you can participate in our Annual General Meeting and have your voice heard in how the EFA Board of Management operates. We are accountable to our members and abide by strict rules that govern how we spend donated resources. Please see our annual reports for more details about our activities over the last fifteen years.

I believe that EFA plays an incredibly important role in providing independent input to the development of Australian communications and technology policy. Over the next two weeks, we will be asking you to support us in that role. It is only through the generous donations of both time and money that EFA is able to have such an impact on Australian policy. Please help us to continue to protect your civil liberties online.

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1 comment

  1. I am right behind you guys. I have donated and was more than happy to. Internet Censorship is so wrong on so many levels and I will do all in my power to oppose it! Keep up the great work!

    Comment by John on 22 March 2010 at 11:57