Democracy rules: from Internet censorship to secret Government banned websites hitlists
TECH TATTLE by Ahmed ElAmin
Democratic governments across the world have tussled with how to manage the Internet, while maintaining the access to information and freedom of expression we are used to enjoying.
At least that is what I used to believe. Now, I can only conclude that once it is granted power the tendency of any government is to drift toward limiting those freedoms. Why? For the same lazy reasons police forces want more stringent laws to control people, governments will attempt to limit our freedoms because it is easier than having to deal with all the abuses that are bound to occur. Or, the lobby power of big corporations and groups espousing morality issues over essential freedoms rings loud in the ears of governments.
This diatribe has been sparked off by a number of major unsettling moves by democratic governments toward censorship. For example, Wikileaks (Wikileaks - Wikileaks) published Australia's secret list of all the Internet sites that it had restricted its population from seeing.
This list is created by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and distributed to the country's Internet service providers ISPs), which are supposed to block or filter such content from being viewed. Australia made it a crime to distribute or publish this list, which was created preliminary to a proposed new law requiring ISPs to block those on it.
While the initial aim of such a list was a good one (blocking child pornography), it has turned into one in which those accused do not know they are on the list - and have no way of defending themselves.
In fact, after the Wikileak's publication, many Australians found out they were on the list and do not seem to know why. According to Forbes magazine, the blacklist shows that the scope of Australia's Internet censorship has developed far beyond its initial aims. It included certain Wikipedia entries, some Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and a Queensland dentist's practice.
As if to prove this point, Australia promptly cut off the two offending Wikileaks pages from being seen by its citizens. Denmark did the same to Wikileaks when the site published that country's blacklist. It turns out many democratic countries have such secret lists. Some countries do not even tell their citizens that such a list exists!
Wikileaks responded to the bans by correctly stating: "The first rule of censorship is that you cannot talk about censorship."
On another front, I object that my tax money is being used to police the Internet on behalf of the entertainment industry. This situation is occurring as more and more governments are in the process of formulating laws that would in effect temporarily or permanently ban individuals from access to the Internet if they are caught downloading copyright music and movies.
For obvious reasons (see previous section above if you are unsure), such a law would be detrimental to democracy. Thank goodness people can still protest. New Zealand's government recently attempted to pass just such a law, which would have forced ISPs to disconnect Internet users accused of illegal use of material such as music or films.
Astoundingly, the proposed Copyright Amendment Act would have required Internet service providers to ban users, even if the allegations made against them were unproven!
Following widespread protests the government has postponed its implementation and the law is under revision. I say through the offending section completely out of the window. The entertainment companies have the usual recourse through the courts to prosecute illegal downloaders.
A law banning individuals from Internet access would in effect act as a censorship measure. Worse, the law could easily be extended, as it has been in authoritarian states, to ban people for other reasons.
If you do not think so just look at how the UK's terrorism laws are now being used for other purposes, such as to prevent demonstrations against the extension of Heathrow airport.
Banning Internet use would cut people off from an important information source simply because they have misused a portion of it to view content they did not pay for. To put it another way, we do not ban people from reading newspapers or books because they have plagiarised information from such sources, for example. And for good reasons.
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