19 July 2002
Freedom of information law to become tool of censorship
Freedom of information laws will become a tool of censorship if proposed amendments are passed by Parliament.
The Federal Government has tabled amendments to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOI Act") to exempt information about operation of the government's Internet censorship regime.
Online civil liberties group, Electronic Frontiers Australia ("EFA"), said the amendments are designed to prevent public scrutiny of the operation and effectiveness of the Internet censorship regime.
Entire documents would become exempt from disclosure by the Australian Broadcasting Authority ("ABA") and the Office of Film and Literature Classification ("OFLC").
Under current FOI law, the ABA blacks out the names and URLs of web pages that have been 'taken down' from Australian web sites by order of the ABA before releasing a document. Under proposed amendments, documents containing identifying information that is currently blacked out would become exempt in their entirety.
"Information that has previously been released to EFA under FOI will become exempt," said Irene Graham, EFA Executive Director. "Some information we've obtained raises questions about the accuracy of government reports on operation of the regime. There is no reason for the broad exemptions proposed other than to prevent public scrutiny."
"The exemptions are extraordinary. The ABA and OFLC could write the name of a 'prohibited' web page on any document they don't want to release and the entire document would then be exempt."
"The proposal is an admission by the Government that its Internet censorship laws have failed to achieve their objective. If material the government claims has been 'taken down' was not still accessible, there would be no reason to use FOI law as a tool of censorship."
EFA said the proposed changes to the FOI Act should be rejected.
"The government should not be permitted to use the failure of the Internet censorship laws as an excuse for making a wide range of documents exempt from disclosure under FOI."
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- Background information
- Contact details for media
Proposed amendments to the FOI Act are contained in the "Communications Legislation Amendment Bill 2002", introduced into the House of Representatives on 27 June 2002.
Detailed info on proposed changes to FOI Act
Links to text of Bill, Explanatory Memorandum, etc
Samples of documents previously released to EFA that will
become fully exempt
Comparison of availability of classification decisions:
offline -vs- online material
In June 2002, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ("AAT") handed down its decisions in the FOI case, Electronic Frontiers Australia Incorporated and Australian Broadcasting Authority (Q2000/979). The AAT ruled that the documents requested by EFA were exempt from disclosure "in so far as they reveal URLs and IPs".
The government's proposed amendments to FOI law exempt far more information than was ruled exempt by the AAT.
The AAT decision in the FOI case 'EFA and ABA', Q2000/979
EFA's FOI application to ABA, 2000-2002
EFA's FOI application to OFLC, 2002
Ms Irene Graham Mr Kimberley Heitman EFA Executive Director EFA Chair Phone: 0412 997 163 Phone: 0439 938 233 Email: ed at efa.org.au Email: chair at efa.org.au
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc -- http://www.efa.org.au/
representing Internet users concerned with on-line freedoms
URL of this release: http://www.efa.org.au/Publish/PR020719.html