Australia's Labour government is rapidly earning the unenviable reputation as the the only Western democracy attempting to censor the Internet with its determined moves to control Internet content (see previous InfoPowa reports) This week the focus was on a clash with Google and hassles with hackers of government websites.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's latest move - an approach to Google requesting that it censor YouTube videos in accordance with broad content rules had been rejected. The Minister had earlier referred to Google's censorship on behalf of the Chinese and Thai governments in making his case for the company to impose Australian censorship.
Google responded that it would not "voluntarily" comply with the Australian government's request, warning that this would lead to the removal of many politically controversial, but harmless, YouTube clips.
University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt, one of Australia's top communications experts, said that to comply with Conroy's request Google "would have to install a filter along the lines of what they actually have in China".
The newspaper reports that the Australian government is currently preparing to introduce legislation forcing Australian ISPs to block a government blacklist of websites compiled by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
YouTube's rules already forbid certain videos, such as sex, violence, bestiality and child pornography, and such classifications can extend further to more controversial content such as information on euthanasia, material about safer drug use and material on how to commit more minor crimes such as painting graffiti.
Google said all of these topics were featured in videos on YouTube and it refused to censor these voluntarily. It said exposing these topics to public debate was vital for democracy.
In an interview this week on the Australian Broadcasting Coporation program Hungry Beast, Conroy said applying ISP filters to high-traffic sites such as YouTube would slow down the internet, "...so we're currently in discussions with Google about ... how we can work this through".
"What we're saying is, well in Australia, these are our laws and we'd like you to apply our laws," Conroy said.
"Google at the moment filters an enormous amount of material on behalf of the Chinese government; they filter an enormous amount of material on behalf of the Thai government."
Google Australia's head of policy, Iarla Flynn, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the company had a bias in favour of freedom of expression in everything it did and Conroy's comparisons between how Australia and China deal with access to information were not "helpful or relevant".
Google has recently threatened to pull out of China, partly due to continuing requests for it to censor material.
It is not clear whether Australian Internet censorship rules would apply to Google, since YouTube is hosted overseas.
This week the Computer Research and Education Association (CORE) joined a long list of Internet freedom organisations fighting Australian censorship by putting out a statement on behalf of all Australasian computer science lecturers and professors opposing the government's internet filtering policy.
CORE said the blacklist could be used by current and future governments to restrict freedom of speech, while those determined to get around the filters and access nasty content could do so with ease.
Earlier this week hackers protesting Australian government censorship of the Internet shut down several Australian government websites in a demonstration against the announcement that filters would be imposed to block access to websites deemed offensive by the authorities.
The campaign was launched by the group 'Anonymous', not the first time this group has attacked government websites, having launched a similar online assault last September.
Agence France Presse news agency reported that the main government website, Australia.gov.au, and parliament’s APH.gov.au were both affected along with the sites for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.
“No one messes with our access to perfectly legal (or illegal) content for any reason,” said a statement released by the group.
The Australian government attacked the campaign as “not a legitimate form of political statement.”
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