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Internet censorship nightmare: Democrats highly critical of Government proposals.

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Media Release

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja

Deputy Leader Australian Democrats

Information Technology and Attorney-General Spokesperson

May 11, 1999

Internet censorship nightmare


Democrats highly critical of Government proposals


The Australian Democrat s have tabled a minority report to the Senate Select Committee for Information Technologies. The report is highly critical of the Government’s Internet censorship proposals in the form of the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill 1999.


“The Australian Democrats understand and support legitimate public concerns about Internet content. We certainly do not advocate unsuitable Internet material being available to minors. Unfortunately, this Bill is not an appropriate way to address these concerns,” said Senator Stott Despoja.


“We strongly oppose the restriction of access to material by adults which would generally be acceptable to reasonable adults. In particular we are concerned about a censorship regime in which material legal in one medium would be made illegal in another.


“The Democrats are also very concerned about the Government’s unwillingness to address the civil liberties issues arising from this Bill. In a liberal democracy, such as Australia, there is a clear onus on the Government to justify any reductions in the freedoms of citizens. Restrictions on freedom of speech, the failure to address privacy implications and the imposition of imprecise enforcement provisions are serious problems and must not be dismissed lightly.


“The proposal to block overseas content through the use of proxies is a major concern. Evidence to the Senate Committee about blocking technologies was overwhelmingly critical. Technical experts identified serious performance concerns and indicated that numerous techniques could be used to circumvent these technologies. Internet service providers gave evidence that the costs of implementing blocking would be likely to have a dramatic impact on the Internet industry. Content control is also likely to have a dramatic impact on the growth of the Internet economy in Australia.


“All use of blocking technologies needs to be examined carefully. The Australian Democrats believe that regulation is required to ensure that the operations of these technologies are transparent. Content control in a liberal democracy must be open and accountable. We should ensure that the value systems and the decisions made in blocking are explicit.


“It is unfortunate that the Government did not take advantage of the Committee process to better inform themselves of the issues surrounding Internet censorship. We have been subjected to a barrage of misleading media releases from the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. In particular, the Australian Democrats regret the sensationalist way in which the Government has labelled critics of the proposed legislation.


“The Australian Democrats believe that this Bill was prepared with undue haste and that consideration should be given to alternative proposals based on education and empowerment of users, and on an understanding of the responsibility of those supervising Internet use by young people.” concluded Senator Stott Despoja.


For comment, contact Senator Stott Despoja on 02 6277 3645

For further information contact Geoff King on 02 6277 3645 or 0412 680 392