Australia Pushes Ahead With Censorship Expansion Without Evidence

Australian lawmakers have moved the expansion on Internet censorship forward. This in spite of a lack of evidence that such an expansion is even needed.

Australia is moving ahead with plans to ramp up Internet censorship despite a lack of evidence that such an expansion is needed. The government is pushing ahead the proposed censorship expansion at the behest of major foreign corporate copyright interests and largely ignoring the plea’s from civil society, innovators, and their own citizens.

At the core of the problem is the change in language in the law. Before, websites could be blocked if they are accused of having the “primary purpose” of copyright infringement. This system itself has been controversial because of a questionable amount of due process that goes into the system. On top of it all, censorship orders have expanded well outside of sites allegedly infringing on copyright and into fan websites such as fan subs. So, already, there is the issue of censorship creep taking hold where more and more sites could be censored.

Now, Australia is intending on increasing Internet censorship laws. The change in language would see the language “primary purpose” get changed to “primary effect”. Experts point out that the language change would mean any site that accepts user comments or user generated content could be subject to censorship. This is because if even one comment somehow encourages infringement, the whole site could be subject to the ban thanks to this change in language.

Earlier, Google announced that it intends to oppose the expansion of censorship in the country. They say that there is a lack of evidence to support such a move in the first place. In fact, we are aware of some evidence that suggest the original censorship laws have caused piracy rates to soar all the while causing consumer spending to fall. The move sparked hopes that there would at least be some powerful voices to try and put a stop to all of this.

Unfortunately, it is beginning to look like this may not be the case.

A new report out suggests that the Australian government is largely ignoring those who do not wish to see censorship increase in their country. Instead, they are picking and choosing whatever supports the governments agenda to ramp up censorship. On top of it all, the government is also hoping for a speedy passage of the laws despite opposition. From ITNews:

An expansion of site blocking laws to target cyberlockers, search engines and mirror sites has cleared a fortnight-long senate committee inquiry.

The committee examining the expansion recommended overnight that the amendments are passed without change.

Google had led opposition to the expansion, saying that the amendments were being “rushed” through without any demonstration of need.

The committee briefly noted Google’s accusation that the process had been “rushed” but did not address it.

The only minor concession the committee provided was for a review of the efficacy of the site blocking expansion after two years of operation.

At this point, optics are terrible for the Australian government. It’s bad enough that they are simply after passing laws that so clearly are for the benefit of a few corporate interests at the expense of society. It’s even worse when those moves involve the curtailing of free speech.

What if a news website publishes an article that points out that censorship will not stop piracy? Could that be considered a website whose “primary effect” is piracy and should be blocked? What about a website where someone uses the hash tag piracy, would that site fall under “primary effect”? Another scenario is what if someone posted a video talking about home brew video games, does that get placed onto the censorship list as well because it happened to involve hacking a console? What would happen if someone likes a post talking about BitTorrent? How about someone sharing a picture of them playing a video game?

With those questions, we just offered ways of censoring any news organizations, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat. Millions of users use those sites for everyday communication or finding out what is happening. Censor one of them and it very easily falls into the category of curtailing free speech.

With Google joining the fight to save free speech, it looked like things could turn around in this debate. Unfortunately, the latest moves from the Australian government suggests that the Google development barely even made a dent in the governments momentum. As a result, it’s starting to look like a pretty scary situation in Australia.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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