September 22, 2007 | By Danny O'Brien

Censorship in the Anglosphere: the UK and Australia

The growing global censorship of the Internet often goes unseen in the
English-speaking Net, because so much of it takes place in other countries,
and in other languages. But that doesn't mean that there aren't contemporary
threats to Internet free speech in the English-speaking world.

In the United Kingdom, two prominent blogs went dark this week after
publishing accusations regarding the Uzbek billionaire, Alisher Usmanov.
Lawyers representing Usmanov contacted the blogs' webhost, Fasthosts, and
after threats to sue under Britain's expansive libel laws, the blogs were
removed. The sites included Tim Ireland's popular "Bloggerheads" site, and
site of Craig Murray, the ex-Ambassador for Uzbekistan. Murray's hosting
provider even intervened to take down individual entries and alter the text of
Murray's blog to avoid further legal action. As Murray charitably noted on the
now deleted site:

... One of the edits to this log my webhost made at Schillings' [Usmanov's
lawyers] behest was to say that my claim was "regarded as false by many
people". I have altered that edit, because there is no justification for such
a claim. I have yet to see evidence of anybody, not one solitary person,
arguing that I am wrong about Usmanov, other than his lawyers. Who are these
"Many people", and why are they peculiarly silent?

I am very sympathetic to my webhost having to change things for Schillings,
but not to the extent of altering things to become defamatory of me!!!

It's a chilling reminder that censorship doesn't just mean that entire sites
can be removed from the Net, or that self-censorship will become rife. It even means that other, commercial third parties - whom you pay for service - might alter the very words credited to you online.

Few subjects of criticism have as enthusiastic lawyers as Usmanov.
But in Australia this week, the government introduced a bill that would let
the Australian government intervene in the Internet speech of all its
citizens, on the flimsiest of pretexts.

The href="http://parlinfoweb.aph.gov.au/piweb/Repository/Legis/Bills/Linked/20090706.pdf">Communications
Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content) Bill
would, as Electronic Frontiers Australia says, href="http://www.efa.org.au/Publish/PR070920.html">give the Australian police
powers to ban access to Internet content which "they have reasons to
believe":

  • encourages, incites, or induces the commission of a Commonwealth offence;
    or
  • was published in part to facilitate the commission of such an offence;
    or
  • that it is likely to have the effect of facilitating the commission of
    such an offence.

In other words, entire sites can be banned in Australia for the merest
suspicion of potentially assisting a crime. Such a low threshold for
censorship, combined by the repeated calls by Australian politicians of all
stripes for a centralized, href="http://www.efa.org.au/Publish/PR070811.html">federal filtering of the
net, poses a real threat to speech and access to the Net in Australia. It's good to see groups like Electronic Frontiers Australia stand up to it.


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