On Thursday night, Australia time, would-be visitors to the Wikileaks.org website were greeted with a blank page. This phenomenon was noticed as far away as England. It was a fitting end to a weird day.
Thursday 19th March began with a story in the Sydney Morning Herald: Leaked Australian blacklist reveals banned sites. A widely predicted event, it appeared, had finally happened. Something purporting to be the ACMA blacklist had been published on the web. The publisher was Wikileaks.org, an international anti-censorship website.
Conroy: Australia's worst ever Communications Minister?
AMCA blacklisted the offending webpage on Wikileaks during the day. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy threatened to hunt down the leaker. He denied that the list was the real ACMA blacklist – but admitted some overlap. In turn, the expanding network of Australians opposed to Internet censorship tweated, twittered and mocked.
As usual, Mike Meloni’s coverage was pithy and to the point: ACMA Blacklist leaked, contains legal websites. For anyone who lacks enough time to follow detailed ongoing discussions on the Whirlpool Forum, Mike’s site is a great place to go to keep abreast of Australia’s Internet Censorship saga.
By Friday morning, Wikileaks was back online. Why it had been down for a few hours, I know not, but at any rate, the dragonslayer was back. And it was not in docile or apologetic mood. That evening, it lobbed a counter-threat back across cyberspace.
Wikileaks is hosted in Sweden and claims the leaked ACMA material was submitted to it within Sweden. It’s statement, with the eye-catching title “Wikileaks to Conroy: Go after our source and we will go after you“ says:
“Under the Swedish Constitution’s Press Freedom Act, the right of a confidential press source to anonymity is protected, and criminal penalties apply to anyone acting to breach that right.
Wikileaks source documents are received in Sweden and published from Sweden so as to derive maximum benefit from this legal protection. Should the Senator or anyone else attempt to discover our source we will refer the matter to the Constitutional Police for prosecution, and, if necessary, ask that the Senator and anyone else involved be extradited to face justice for breaching fundamental rights.”
Swedish Prison Cell: a good place to study liberal values
I take my hat off to Wikileaks. For months, most normal Australians have been wondering what to do with Stephen Conroy, who has become a more serious pest in this continent than the canetoad.
To paraphrase President Ahmadinejad, Australia’s bumbling Communications Minister must be removed from the pages of Hansard. But how? Wikileaks’ lateral idea is transportation to Sweden. Fantastic!
An extended holiday in a Swedish jail would be remedial therapy for Australia’s No 1 Control Freak. He could be encouraged to spend more time online to learn the basics of modern communications – while absorbing liberal values from his tolerant guards. When fully rehabilitated, perhaps he’ll start blogging again?
Friday had more surprises in store! Wikileaks also released a leaked ACMA blacklist Mark 2: a shorter list than the previous leaked list with less than 1.200 URLs – see New ACMA blacklist leaked: 1170 URLs dated March 18.
Wikileaks claims this slimmed down version of the first list is more accurate. So now, curious Australians can see what our tax-dollars (may well) have been spent on. It’s not a pretty sight. The latest list does contain a lot of URLs that sound very smutty. But it also contains material that’s clearly legal. Wikileaks itself now appears on the list. As is so often the case, opponents of censorship are among its first victims.
There’s no formal appeal process if a website or page gets added to ACMA’s blacklist. There’s no right to be notified either. If ever ACMA’s list is coupled with a mandatory ‘filter’, in accordance with the Rudd Government’s current stated intention, URLs will be cumulatively removed from ‘our’ web, which in effect will become a subset of the World Wide Web. Banned material will vanish without warning. It’s obvious now that a lot more than child porn will be targeted.
Yesterday, the Labor Party won a State election in Queensland, returning Anna Bligh as Premier with a reduced although still comfortable majority. Despite many misgivings about the ALP, I welcome the result. Since the beginning of the campaign, I had a clear preference for Anna Bligh over Queensland’s Liberal-National Party leader Lawrence Springborg. A majority of Queenslanders felt the same way. I couldn’t support the conservatives on this occasion. (The Greens are still building strength but sadly, once again, fell short of a real electoral breakthrough.)
Kevin Rudd: gambling government over a hated censorship policy
Yet Prime Minister Rudd would be ill-advised to take much comfort from the Queensland result. It was a State election fought on State issues. Bligh was a more progressive choice of leader than her counterpart. The same does not apply at national level, where the issues – and leaders – are very different.
As things stand, Internet censorship is likely to be a huge vote-changer at the Federal election. Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, despite disappointing lapses, is a more attractive potential leader than his Queensland equivalent. Turnbull also has a much better grasp of environmental issues.
The Conservatives have a real chance at the next Australian Federal election – unless Mr Rudd perks up his ideas. His Government has failed badly on a number of fronts. For example, the Rudd Government’s greenhouse policy – as developed by Climate Change Minister Penny Wong – is a fake and a shambles.
No part Federal Labor’s policy agenda is in worse shape than communications. The promised broadband rollout is hopelessly stalled. Worst of all, Labor remains committed to foisting a censorship regime on this country that the great majority of Australians don’t want.
Senator Conroy’s needs to go – and go soon. Sweden is barely far enough.
Aside from Conroy’s fate, Mr Rudd is fast running out of time to change course on Internet censorship. If he doesn’t ditch the compulsory censorship policy before the next election – and as long as the Federal Opposition remains firmly opposed to a ‘mandatory filter’ - I predict the Rudd Government will be a one-term wonder. This blog will certainly do its bit to make that happen.
I may prefer Social Democrats over Tories as a generalization – but goodwill is conditional and does not extend to outright masochism.
Wikileaks Overloaded: now everyone can see which websites Conroy thinks are the "worst of the worst"
Postcript: As I finalize this article, on Sunday 21st March, I notice the Wikileaks website is down again. Then it comes back. There’s new text on the front page. Wikileaks is overloaded by visitors. Another Conroy own goal.
Yet again, a censorship-happy government falls victim to the foreseeable Laws of Unintended Consequences.
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