Australia Wants Webmasters to Play Big Brother

…And they’re ready to use big fines to make sure you do

Webmasters in Australia had better be careful about who they are linking to, because they could face huge cash fines if they’re caught linking out to the wrong website. What started out as an attempt to pass mandatory ISP-level filtering is now becoming a matter of hunting down websites that link to offending materials and serving them with a whopping $11,000 (AUD) per day penalty.

Here’s the full news article to get you up to speed on how this is playing out.  What I’m particularly interested in is how the implementation of this newest scheme is likely to be utterly disasterous to the website building and hosting businesses in the nation of Australia.

Social Liability

One thing you may recognize from the article is that the latest high profile threat of fining came down against the web host of a forum website.  This means one of the users of the forum posted a link to a banned website – and this directly makes the web host and the forum’s owner/developer liable for whatever “damages” were legally incurred.

And at $11,000 for every day the link stays live, that’s a lot of made-up liability.  What exactly was the damage done here…?

Legislating Morality and Stifling Dissent

Well, it was to a banned anti-abortion site.  I’m not trying to jump in the middle of an abortion debate here, but I always thought the great part of a free society was that you can have those dissenting and even contentious debates.

The slippery slope may be considered a fallacy in logic class, but it seems that quite often it is a stark reality in the political world.  While such ban lists and filtering schemes can often gain initial popularity by focusing on explicitly illegal content like certain types of pornography, it seems almost inevitable that this power will be turned into an ability to stifle political dissent.

Silencing the Messenger and Working in the Dark

One of the absurdities of the Wikileaks decision is that Australia is now banning a website that is primarily dedicated to revealing the secrets that their governments are trying to keep from them.  Since the list of banned sites is essentially a list of links to banned sites, the official government list itself is a form of banned information.

Is this list available?  Could a webmaster legally acquire a list of illegal sites?  If not (and I expect not) how is one supposed to protect themselves from accidentally publishing a reference to a domain deemed unworthy?  How are web hosts supposed to deal with such notifications from the government?  Obviously, there is no due process before the financial fine starts to come due.

No Threat (or sin) too Small

Some vocal interest groups are cheering the censorship of Australian internet.  They have no intent on stopping with illegal content, copyright infringements (corporate interests), or even political dissent.

These are the same type of moralizers that would like to outlaw every thing they deem to be a vice – and outlaw anything that references them as well.  Nothing is safe from these types of puritanical fanatics – no evil is too small for them to crush when they’re given a bit of public power.

Big Brother Needs You!

Your money and/or obedience, that is.  Who cares if you can’t rid the Australian internet of everything someone might potentially find somewhat offensive?  They can always count on this law to provide a means of milking the cash cow that is the hosting and website building business.  Someone will eventually, unwittingly, link to a prohibited website, and they’ll provide a nice $11,000 toward some public official’s salary and/or bribe money.

Good luck keeping your small businesses in business with that sort of arbitrary threat hanging over your head – and good luck to anyone unlucky enough to own or host a social website in the country.

1 Comment

  1. Its really difficult to legislate anything on the Internet because there is not single jurisdiction. The rules that apply for one country do not apply to all, because they simply cannot be enforced.

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