Tassie election internet law sparks protests


A number of civil liberties, privacy, consumer groups and individuals have started to express displeasure at what they claim are out-of-date laws regarding disclosure of personal information when Tasmanian residents comment online about the upcoming state election.

According to consumer group Digital Tasmania, Section 191 of the state’s Electoral Law currently requires all election material posted on the internet to be accompanied by an authorisation containing a person’s full name and home or work address.

The situation mirrors legislation enacted in South Australia recently which requires a resident’s details to accompany any internet comment about the election. However, the state quickly pledged to repeal the legislation after substantial public dissent led by newspaper the Advertiser.

Digital Tasmania, a consumer action group, today condemned the Tasmanian regulations in a statement backed by Electronic Frontiers Australia, Civil Liberties Australia and the Australian Privacy Foundation.

“The sheer impracticality of enforcing this law on thousands of people in Tasmania and elsewhere commenting on this election is overwhelming,” Digital Tasmania spokesperson Andrew Connor said, claiming the law was a “backwards step” for those using social networking sites such as Facebook, which he said had recently improved privacy controls.

“Those who do follow the letter of the law potentially expose themselves to harassment, stalking, physical abuse or identity theft,” said Connor. “It is conceivable that such personally identifiable information may, once published, remain available online forever.”

Digital Tasmania has called for the Tasmanian Electoral Commissioner not to enforce the controversial section of the state’s electoral code, in a letter which the group also sent to the leaders of the three biggest political parties in the state. The communication also calls for a review of the law as soon as parliament reconvenes.

“Very few Tasmanians are aware of the requirement, there are literally hundreds of comments being posted all over the internet on a daily basis, and even some candidates for office are failing from a matter of practicality to comply with the legislation,” the letter, which Digital Tasmania also forwarded to journalists, states.

However, Tasmania’s Electoral Commissioner Bruce Taylor has told the state’s Examiner newspaper that he would take a common sense approach but would still uphold the law. “An appropriate place to include authorisation on a website would be on a footer, or on a Facebook page, (or) in the box where you can write something about yourself, which appears under the photo spot in the top left-hand corner,” his office said this week.

Delimiter understands that other individuals have also expressed concern about the laws directly to the office of the Tasmanian Electoral Commissioner. In addition, the issue is being discussed on Twitter under the #tas2010 hashtag and some bloggers have posted extremely detailed critiques of the regulations.

The news comes as the leaders of the state’s major political parties are on Monday slated to debate what actions Tasmania needs to take to grow its technology industries, at an event to be hosted by the Australian Computer Society at the Hobart Function and Conference Centre.

Image credit: Google (Maps)


  1. The commissioner's misguided advice about how to include authorisation in Facebook pages completely ignores how this may appear to users of mobile Facebook client apps.

    Likewise, it seems politicians are intent on using background images on Twitter to display authorisation messages. These messages are not accessible to those using Twitter clients on their desktop or mobile, or the print disabled who may be using screen readers to access Twitter.

    • PeterH:
      I’d suggest that it should be treated differently as online is far easier to datamine than offline. Offline includes verification of scanning errors. One also cannot programmatically assemble a list of, for example, all your highschool friends via existing printed material and go out and eat pizza. It’s very easy to do this with Facebook (See PJF’s excellent ‘Dark Stalking’ studies). The technically skilled could probably do it in about an hour, whereas manually it would take (at a guess) more than the run of your average election to assemble the same data thus rendering the exercise pointless.

    • There needs to be accountability and personal responsibility during an election campaign. The timeframe of an election is finite, and the ability to anonymously publish falsifications, untrue accusations etc online will only lead, as it has always has in the political sphere, to massive and targeted misinformation, fraud, slander and character assasination.
      If you have something to comment on during an election, which pertains to the election, then simply be ready to stand for and be accountable for your statements.
      Anything else during an election in Australia is either cowardice, targeted fraud or unethical misinformation. It is soooooo easy to sling mud from some dark recess during an election, much harder though to stand and be clearly identified.

      • Michael, it is soooooo easy to set up an encrypted anonymous VPN and appear to be commenting outside of the legislative area. It is also soooooo easy to get agitators from outside the legislative area to act as online shills, sockpuppets and the like.
        With physical advertising, there is at least usually some more traceable audit trail (eg, bank accounts of who paid for the adverts in the papers, who printed the signs or the appearance and description of the person who asked for the sign to be placed in one’s yard)
        Notice that there’s no disagreement from Digitas and the others about the need to be accountable, it’s the implementation.
        To the letter of the law, every chat line on GTalk every VOIP call every email every phto that *might* influence a voter needs to be authorised. I hope you can see how the phrasing of the law is impractical.

  2. Warren, I'd argue that screen readers are disadvantaged by the interpretation of the Commissioner. In this case, the act would seem to be written with the intent so that they are not. Personally, I find it very distressing that a clear intent by the act is so blatantly ignored by the commissioner. I'd love to see someone in court over W3 WCAG10. About time someone got dragged over the coals for ignoring W3 Accessibility guidelines that are over 10 years old. I'm not too sure, though, where I'm personally up for it….

  3. and what is stopping people posting fake names/addresses and or emails?

    the internet unlike other forms of media is harder to trace people but easier to steal private information/steal identities.

    there is NOTHING stopping what im doing now making the whole excersize pointless? what are they gonna do, arrest me? the time/money spent not to mention public backlash they wouldnt even bother.

  4. Michael, I am fully aware of the intent of the law. Fraud and slander however are already illegal, and what’s more can already be prosecuted within the existing legal system, without the requirement for individuals to disclose their full name and address online.

    By all means, parties should be compelled to disclose authorisation in their campaign material, but expecting individuals not attached to the party to authorise every action online, whether it be a Facebook status update, a Tweet, or some other piece of “micro-content” that might be inferred as an attempt to influence a vote is simply diabolical.

    If we set aside the historical importance of anonymity in the political discourse, and also the practical issues around authorisation of micro-content, how do we deal with the need to balance an individual’s right to feel safe in their own home, with their right to freely express a political opinion that others may not agree with?

    It’s widely acknowledged that a politician enters “public life” and there is a tradeoff involved in terms of their privacy, yet even their authorisations commonly refer to the party office, not their own personal abode.

    What is an individual to do? List the address of their employer, who may hold contrary views? List their home address and run the risk of being harassed? List a false address and compound the legal dangers they place themselves in? Or simply remain silent?

    • Hmm I’m based in NSW, and Delimiter is hosted in the US. Wonder if I am going to get an email from the Tasmanian Electoral Commissioner because y’all have not posted your address details here?? ;)

      Clearly the law is unworkable and impractical in the internet age. It will be interesting to see if they repeal it, the same way the South Australian Government did.

      • SA has NOT (AFAIK) repealed the law…

        The Atty Gen’l has only said that they intend to if re-elected.
        (Logic seems to be: We’ve just visited it & can’t re-visit it “in time”
        but – now that we’ve aroused your passions about it –
        we’ll repeal it after the election… Elect & “trust us”!
        Not very encouraging…)

        SA media reported that the law applies for the coming election.

        Remember: SA Gov’t has laws that make it unlawful to associate
        with the bikie gangs, that they deem unlawful; imaging sibblings
        or long-time friends – NOT involved in crime – who had good rela-
        tions with bikie gang members BEFORE the law was brought in;
        they’ve become offenders, or would, if they associate now.

        Civil Rights struck down by SA Gov’t.

        Swedes enjoy freedoms, that SA Gov’t fear to extend
        to its own citizens & residents.

        Past is Prologue…

        1. AU & SA: Once colonists, always beholden to modern
        counterparts. -vs-

        2. Sweden: Once free & independent of rule by monarchs,
        always free. Happily, their freedoms continue to pass
        from generation to generation.



          “An open society

          Swedish laws and rights protect openness, equality and tolerance. This includes freedom of the press, the right to take part in demonstrations, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, same-sex marriage, the opportunity to move freely in the countryside and the right to question those in power. Sweden aims to be an equal society where everyone is welcome.

          A free press pioneer

          In 1766, Sweden implemented the world’s first freedom of press act. Then and today, Swedish citizens who provide publishers, editors and news agencies with information are entitled to so-called source protection, or anonymity protection, meaning journalists can never be forced to reveal their sources.
          Exchanging ideas

          Outside the media, there is also freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate, both of which are intended to secure a free exchange of views, information and artistic creativity. With between 10,000 and 15,000 Swedish blogs today, it seems that Swedish residents definitely take advantage of their freedom of expression.

          To ensure a civil public discourse, Swedish laws protect groups and individuals against hateful or discriminatory speech.
          Transparent governance

          The principle of public access (offentlighetsprincipen) means that the general public and the mass media have access to official records. This grants Swedish citizens insight into the activities of government and local authorities. Those who work for the government are free to share their knowledge and information with the media or public, which helps create a transparent and accountable system between the people and the state.
          Nature — a universal right

          Public access extends to nature as well. The Swedish right of public access (allemansrätten) gives people the freedom to roam and camp on privately owned land, as long as care and consideration are given to nature, animals, landowners and other people. The Swedish National Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) summarizes this right with the phrase “no disturbing — no destroying.”

          Learn more about the right of public access
          Accessibility for all

          Swedish disability policies make sure that people with disabilities also have the opportunity to exercise their rights as citizens, and to fulfill their obligations. Buses are equipped for wheelchairs, crosswalks give audible signals for the blind, and children with disabilities are encouraged to attend compulsory school in specially designed classes provided in the same school as other children. Almost all people with disabilities in Sweden live in their own homes, and the majority of children with disabilities grow up at home with their own families.
          Marriage rights and equality

          On May 1, 2009, same-sex marriages were legalized in Sweden. A few months later, the Church of Sweden also showed its support. Gay and lesbian couples have been permitted to have registered partnerships in Sweden since 1995, but people in same-sex marriages now have the same legal status as people in heterosexual marriages and can also choose to get married in church. A majority of the Swedish population supported this movement.”


          (Even individual taxable incomes are published – eg, in a book, available in public libraries.)

  5. I said this re the SA law, and I'll repeat it for the Tas law: Why are people (EFA etc) demanding paper-printed material be trreated differently to electronically-printed material? If I distribute a leaflet, with a political message, DURING AN ELECTION CAMPAIGN, I must provide full details (name and address) on that leaflet so as to prevent bogus claims in leaflets such as the anti Muslim scaremongering distributed in Penrith during the 2007 Federal Election.

    Yet EFA and others are demanding that such rubbish can be spread anonymously online.

    Surely the same laws should apply whether it is on tv, radio, print or online?

    Remember people, it is ONLY during an election, not all the time.

    Maybe personal pages should be exempt where the real name of the person is on the page (eg facebook or a blog), but general websites (eg newspapers or "non-personal" blogs) should be enforced. My idea of personal would be http://www.myname,com or http://www.facebook,com/myname, as opposed to facebook groups or http://www.todaysupdate.com which are not personally identifiable and therefore the laws would apply.

  6. My suggestion that pages which include the author’s (or their organisation’s) name in their URL are made exempt would include facebook status updates.

    It would not, however, include sites such as this as I am the author of my comment and I am not employed by Delimiter.

    ID is checked via phone by newspaper editors, there is no reason it cannot vbe checked by website owners if they wish to publish during the 6 weeks of an election campaign.

    Oh, and VoIP calls would be exempt just as a phone call is now so lets not run that ridiculous scaremongering line.

  7. Peter H are you a Tasmanian?
    If so, out with it mate, whats your address details? Do you feel comfortable with putting your full details in this comment page?

    You are commenting on this law with regard to the upcoming election, the application of it is related to the election period. The article states “when Tasmanian residents comment online about the upcoming state election.” Therefore any Tasmanian commenting here about the application of this law in Tasmanian elections is required to publish their detals.

    That is what people seem to be having the issue with, and its not particularly defensible.

    BTW seems same as in South Australia they are already searching for reverse gear as they cant backpedal fast enough.

  8. Antony Green from ABC said on Tasmanian radio this morning the law was good but unworkable (?!). The Tasmanian Premier later called the law an pointles anachronism (paraphrased) (he then made some comment about changing the law to make publishers liable)
    Hopefully some agreement can be reached between the three major party leaders at today’s Aus Computer Forum in Hobart, where they’re speaking. As it stands right now, where different candidates have expressed different opinions as to the law – thus making the discussion of the law itself an ‘Electoral Matter’… ARGH!

  9. A similar story broke in & about South Australia’s similar law.

    Quite simply, we need a Bill of Rights to both
    protect our freedom to be anonymous as we will and
    to speak our minds without limitation.

    Sweden has the best law on this:

    “The Freedom of the Press Act”

    A Summary:

    “The right to publish a newspaper without having the contents monitored in advance by any government agency is one example of freedom of the press. The Freedom of the Press Act serves to safeguard freedom of speech in printed form.

    It gives all individuals a fundamental right to express their opinions and disseminate them without prior censorship. The right of free access to official documents is also enshrined in the Freedom of the Press Act. This means that anyone is entitled to contact a public authority or agency in Sweden and request access to an official document, such as a decision it has made. An individual who makes such a request does not need to give his name or specify the purpose of his request.

    Another principle contained in the Freedom of the Press Act is the freedom to communicate information. According to this principle, all persons in Sweden are entitled to communicate to the press information that they consider important and necessary to make public. The publisher of the material is not entitled to reveal the source if the individual in question wishes to remain anonymous. It is a punishable offence for anyone, for example the head of a public agency, to try to find out who has leaked information to the media.

    Sweden’s first Freedom of the Press Act was introduced as early as 1766.”


    Read the full-text version of the Freedom of the Press Act:


    (AU’s gov’t once introduced the GST with that reason)

  10. SA Law FORBIDS taking notes in public court hearings

    (Exceptions: Journo’s & Law students)

    We need a way to become credentialed as Inrerner journo’s,
    in a way that allows us to freely take notes in interesting
    court proceedings.

    Who would want people NOT to take notes?

    Accuracy of one’s understanding would be
    enhanced, just as memory errors be reduced,
    if this limitation could be removed.

    Freedom to view & listen, but not be in a position
    to ACCURATELY recount for any others (who can’t
    get to the court, eg, due to work or family commit-
    ments) is a BROKEN FREEDOM.

    We need to change this, to INCREASE OUR FREEDOM.

    (In Sweden, a party to a case can even RECORD
    the proceedings they’re involved in.)

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