Australian Government Passes "Free" World's Most Restrictive Internet Law

by Rose Windsor and Kenny Moore

While Americans were celebrating liberty over the recent Fourth of July holiday, our friends Down Under were having their freedom stripped away. On June 30,1999, the Australian Senate approved a Bill that extends the Broadcasting Services Act of 1992 to the Internet. This Bill is now a law, set for immediate enforcement. The law will enact a rating system similar to the ones in effect for rating films, videos, and materials containing references to drugs, sex, violence, nudity, or obscene language. This law takes things a step further and will apply restrictive ratings to material that "incites" violence or depicts acts that "offend against the standards of morality, decency, and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults."

The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) will administer and enforce this law. ISP providers will be required to filter content and shut down sites not in keeping with reasonable moral decency. Some sites will be allowed to operate, but on the basis of passwords, PINS, or purchasing the rights to view the material by credit card usage. Individual State/Territories also reserve the right to impose "obligations" on producers of sites that contain offensive contents, as well as persons who upload or access the content.

The law is being touted under the guise of child protection. Don't be fooled! It is a deliberate attack on the freedom of speech of all Australians, as well as an attack on their personal privacy. This is nothing less than a governmental effort to prevent the free exchange of ideas. Requiring passwords and PINS will in no way inhibit child usage. Children will still be able to find a method to secure a password or PIN. All this system does is basically criminalize any expression found offensive by the most conservative element of the country and put roadblocks in the way of those that do not wish to conform to those standards in their surfing habits. Filters will slow down connections and cost users more money. PINS and Passwords also make the user more easily tracked. Bye-bye privacy and anonymity. How eager will a person be to have the fact that they are visiting a site that the government has restricted in such a way documented within their credit card reports and undoubtedly have this information sold to whoever will pay by the credit card companies?

This system also discourages a free and open discourse by individuals seeking information on health topics, politics, art and non-violent erotic materials. Many people will choose to forego visiting many such sites rather than paying for access to them. Others may be put off by the ratings with the thought "Hmmm. It's R-rated. Must be chock full of sex and violence. Hey, I don't want THAT!" In reality this R-rating applies to:

"verbal references to and depictions associated with issues such as suicide, crime, corruption, marital problems, emotional trauma, drug and alcohol dependency, death and serious illness, racism, religious issues".
(Source: OFLC Classification Guidelines)

According to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) 68% of films and 71% of videos were classified R-rated for adult themes other than sex and violence. Even an educational film about menstruation was under fire as it would be "disturbing" to girls who hadn't reached puberty yet! Yes, we are really protecting our children by keeping this information from them.

Despite polls and surveys that indicate the majority of Australians protest this law, it is here. Don't let the Australian government pull the wool over your eyes. This is not about the family; it is about power and control over the flow of information. The power should be in the hands of the people, not in the hands of some arbitrary government that wishes to sweep their true motives under the carpet. Under the carpet lies your freedom, freedom that is being mercilessly trampled upon. Even if you are not an Australian resident, you must protest this violation. This law serves to give the green light to other countries trying to adopt similar practices.

As this Fourth of July weekend winds down, the BB-Q grill has been cleaned, the sandwiches are gone and the beer is getting warm. The last firework has fizzled into the darkness. It would seem all too easy to retreat to our comfortable homes, wrapping ourselves in the cloak of false security the American Flag represents. Take time to stop and think of the Liberty Bell, ringing in the distance. Remember we are not so secure, our rights are being attacked and we must speak out. The Liberty is fading and the Bell is ringing ominously. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for thee."

Let your voice be heard. Speak out loudly and voluminously. Contact the Australian minister and protest this law.
Phone- (03 9650 0233) Fax- (02 6273 4154)

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Join the Australian campaign against Internet censorship:

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