update The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has ruled against Electronic Frontiers Australia in a case in which the digital lobby group was protesting a takedown request from the communications regulator over a link to a banned abortion website hosted in the US.
The case dates back to an EFA blog post in May 2009, in which the group was discussing Australia’s current online censorship regime with relation to the Federal Government’s proposed internet filtering scheme.
EFA included in its blog post a link to a banned section of American site abortiontv.com — a page which is on the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) blacklist of sites and which the regulator had previously requested that broadband forum Whirlpool also remove.
“Abortion being a sensitive political issue, we felt it illustrated the dangers of internet censorship in general and a secret blacklist in particular,” wrote EFA chair Colin Jacobs in a new blog post today. ACMA subsequently sent a “Link Deletion Notice” to the EFA’s hosting partner Sublime IP. Although the EFA deleted the link, it felt there were problems with the way ACMA had issued the notice.
“Last week, the AAT handed down its decision, upholding ACMA’s decision to both issue the notice and to issue it to Sublime instead of EFA,” Jacobs wrote today.
According to Jacobs, the tribunal found that while imposing restrictions on the internet could burden communication about government or political matters, any constraint on communications in this case was “minor” — leaving the EFA’s words in its article untouched.
“We are disappointed but not surprised by this decision, which we feel highlights many issues with the current system,” Jacobs wrote today, noting the EFA believed there were implications for the filtering project as well.
“From the leak of the blacklist, we saw that many of the sites on there were far from obscene, but contained all manner of harmless, controversial and borderline political material. This raises enormous concerns. Could debate and culture thrive in Australia if all R-rated material was effectively blocked?”
In a statement, ACMA said it welcomed the decision. It also noted that the EFA blog had included a statement to the effect that from the ‘leak’ of the ACMA blacklist, the lobby group had seen that many of the included sites were “far from obscene” — containing “harmless, controversial and borderline political material”.
“By way of clarification, the lists of URLs posted on the Wikileaks web site in 2009 were not accurate copies of the list the ACMA is required to maintain under the [Broadcasting Services Act],” said the ACMA statement. “In many cases, the published URLs appeared to be modified versions of the prohibited content and potential prohibited content URLs which the ACMA had notified to IIA-accredited filter software makers.”