EFA has received the text of a letter from Liberal Party Senator Sue Boyce to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith demanding they come clean on the nature of representations made by the U.S. government regarding their internet censorship policy.
Recent revelations that the U.S. Department of State had broached the subject with the Australian government, followed up by a diplomatically-worded but damning statement by U.S. ambassador Jeff Bleich on Q&A last week leave little doubt that Australia is on the U.S.'s watch list. The Obama administration drew a line in the sand in January with Secretary of State's Hillary Clinton's landmark speech on internet freedom. Despite disingenuous attempts to spin it otherwise, Senator Conroy's mandatory censorship scheme clearly crosses that line.
This has not been lost on Senator Boyce. In her letter, she questions Senator Conroy's assertion that the U.S. government merely asked for some background information on the censorship plan. "I am sure that [State Department spokesperson] Mr Clay would have chosen his words carefully and I find it difficult to reconcile a statement that the US Government had 'raised concerns' with Minister Conroy's assertion that the US Government had only asked for background information."
Referring to Ambassador Bleich's comments, Senator Boyce goes on to say,
It is a deplorable situation when Australians have to rely upon the frankness of a foreign diplomat to provide information about bilateral discussions on a very important matter because relevant Australian Ministers either dissemble or just refuse to say anything.
Given the Ambassador's statement that the US Government has been "able to accomplish the goals Australia has described … without having to use internet filters" I would appreciate your advice as to whether the US Government has advised the Australian Government about how that has been managed in the USA, when that advice was provided and to whom.
To those following the debate it will be well known that the mandatory filtering plan has drawn criticism for its technical flaws, confused goals, free-speech risks and ever-shifting details. The fact that it is drawing international opprobrium is not new - for instance, Conroy's receipt of the "Internet Villain of the Year" award - but the remarks by the United States show just how seriously this is being taken.
When Reporters Without Borders named Australia as a country "under surveillance" as an internet enemy earlier in the year, the Minister tried to deflect the blame onto EFA for misleading them. Are we also to blame for misinforming Secretary Clinton, ambassador Bleich, and even President Obama himself? Or could it just be that it's possible to understand Senator Conroy's policy and harbour serious concerns without being sympathetic to child pornography? While we don't expect the Minister to concede this any time soon, the broad array of organisations opposing the filter is making this line of attack increasingly untenable.
In any case, EFA looks forward to hearing the Ministers' response to Senator Boyce's timely questions.
The full text of the letter is available here.