It takes no particular courage for me to create a link to Wikileaks' list of websites banned in the state of Denmark, but I don't live in Australia. If I did live in the land of vegemite, it could cost me a fine of $11,000 a day.
The Australian communications regulator says it will fine people who hyperlink to sites on its blacklist, which has been further expanded to include several pages on the anonymous whistleblower site Wikileaks.
Wikileaks was added to the blacklist for publishing a leaked document containing Denmark's list of banned websites.
The move by the Australian Communications and Media Authority comes after it threatened the host of online broadband discussion forum Whirlpool last week with a $11,000-a-day fine over a link published in its forum to another page blacklisted by ACMA – an anti-abortion website.
The ACMA is charged with enforcing Australia's internet and media censorship laws. Relying on codes promulgated by Australia's Standing Committee of Attorneys General (or "SCAG") and "Censorship Ministers" (I did not make up these titles), the ACMA classifies and rates websites using a system similar to the United States' voluntary G, PG, R, NC-17 classifications for movies. Only in Australia, those classifications are administered by the government, and have legal teeth. Now the country's new government, under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, proposes to block access to sites deemed equivalent to "R" (unless password-protected) or "X," for everyone.
Most of the sites the ACMA currently proposes to outright blacklist (by requiring internet service providers to block access) appear to be child pornography, but not all, for instance the anti-abortion site mentioned above. While I'm pro-choice, I can see the political value in a frank discussion of abortion and its consequences, which may include images depicting the horrible reality that is an aborted fetus. One of the sites linked on our blogroll (link is work-safe) in fact did that a few months ago.
As for WikiLeaks, the Australian government is banning links to an explicitly political site which merely shows what sites have been banned by other governments. In effect, the government is banning discussion of censorship, by preventing people from knowing what they can't see. Which it must, under the censors' logic, or the whole house of cards falls.
Now I haven't clicked a single link within the Danish list above, nor do I plan to. (I note that WikiLeaks has inserted a "nofollow" tag within its list, preventing search engines from giving weight to the links.) But the Danish list isn't the only compendium of banned information WikiLeaks possesses. For instance, it holds a list of sites banned by the government of Thailand, many of which are child porn (who knew that's illegal in Thailand?), but many of which simply run afoul of Thailand's vile "lese majeste" laws. Will ACMA ban that list as well, on the grounds that because Australians could be subjected to indecent material, they shouldn't have access to a compendium of sites that have been censored for their political content?
Or should Australian adults be treated as adults, rather than as the children the government claims its censorship regime is meant to protect? And as, in fact, Australian law seems to require:
[A]dults should be able to read, hear and see what they want.
A good rule by which to run a society. Perhaps Australia will return to it one day.