Aussie Agency Bans Links to Blacklisted Websites

BRISBANE, Australia - The Australian government will fine anyone who hyperlinks to blacklisted websites, under new Internet laws.

The office of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), a regulatory agency, will hit violators with fines as  high as 11,000 Australian dollars (more than $7,000 U.S.) a day.

Sites have already been threatened, including the discussion forum Whirlpool, which published the link to a blacklisted page belonging to an anti-abortion website.

According to the Times, the Australian communications regulator recently expanded its blacklist to include part of the anonymous whistleblower site Wikileaks (part of Wikipedia), which published a leaked document containing Denmark's list of banned websites and has featured banned site lists from other nations as well.

Australian ISPs are participating in trials to test filtering software that's part of a government plan opponents have called out-and-out censorship. Meanwhile, ACMA can already force its will on sites hosted in Australia, ordering them to remove banned pages or links to banned pages, or face those fines.

Free-speech and civil liberties organizations and blogs are in an uproar. On the Wikileaks website, the response to the government was, "The first rule of censorship is that you cannot talk about censorship."

Another opponent is Electronic Frontiers Australia, whose current homepage has a top banner that says "No Clean Feed - Stop Internet Censorship in Australia." The group illustrated the government's folly by pointing out its own state-determined blacklist, currently secret, would be leaked once it's in the hands of various ISPs for filtering.

"We note that, not only do these incidents show that the ACMA censors are more than willing to interpret their broad guidelines to include a discussion forum and document repository, it is demonstrably inevitable that the government's own list is bound to be exposed itself at some point in the future," said the EFA on its site. "The government would serve the country well by sparing themselves, and us, this embarrassment."

Last week, freedom of speech site Reporters Without Borders placed Australia on its watch list of countries restricting Internet freedom.

Opposing Green party spokesman, Senator Scott Ludlam, agreed with Reporters Without Borders, attacking the current Aussie administration's Internet filtering and censorship scheme, led by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

"The Government is embarking on a deeply unpopular and troubling experiment to fine-tune its ability to censor the Internet," Ludlam said. "If you consider this kind of net censorship in the context of Australia's anti-terror laws, it paints a disturbing picture indeed."

Conroy has claimed his filtering project only targets illegal content, mostly child pornography, and accused the opposition of conspiracy theory paranoia.

EFA suggested all the research and solutions can already be found in government offices.

Meanwhile, the Australian Christian Lobby has publicly stated it hopes the adult industry Down Under collapses once the filtering plans are fully implemented.