Friday, March 20, 2009

The Internet and conflicting national laws - Stephen Conroy meets Abbie Hoffman?

This is really more of a political story than a business story - and you can thank your lucky stars that I don't write an Empoprises politics blog - but this obviously has business implications, so I wanted to discuss it here in Empoprise-BI.

You've probably heard of Duncan Riley and his news website the Inquisitr. While Riley is an Australian citizen, the Inquisitr's servers are located outside Australia. Despite this, Riley obviously needs to keep track of Australian law, and thus has devoted much time to discussing the policies of Australian Senator Stephen Conroy, who under the Australian governmental system (similar to that in the United Kingdom) also holds an executive position as Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. In this position, Conroy has been active in crafting ways to protect Australians from the dangers of the Internet.

On March 18, Duncan Riley wrote about the revelation of Conroy's list of blacklisted web sites.

The blacklist of web sites banned by the Australian Government has been leaked to pubic disclosure site Wikileaks.

The list details all sites “refused classification” in Australia that would be illegal to view in Australia, or as was discovered last week, even linked to. The list, which does include child pornography sites, is remarkable for the additional material it also bans. Included on the list are Poker sites, including sites where poker is played and even a Poker news sites, religious sites, YouTube videos, normal porn sites and as Asher Moses at The Age points out, even the site of a Queensland dentist.

So did Riley link to the Wikileaks list? For reasons I noted above, he didn't:

I can’t link to the list because it’s likely that the list itself will end up on the list (and it’s a AU$11,000/ day fine)...

I am not Australian, so have at it. (And no, I won't make a Disqus comment on the Inquisitr and link to this post.)

At this point some people would laugh at Riley's paranoia. Would the Australian government truly clamp down on people just for posting a list of banned web sites?

Umm... after saying that the Wikileaks list was not authentic, Conroy threatened Wikileaks for publishing it anyway:

Conroy...took the chance to slam the unknown party which leaked the list of URLs, saying they could be the target of criminal prosecution.

"ACMA is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution," Conroy said.

"The leak and publication of prohibited URLs is grossly irresponsible. It undermines efforts to improve cyber-safety and create a safe online environment for children."

Conroy said that no one who was interested in cyber-safety would condone the leaking of the addresses which included URLs relating to child sexual abuse, rape, incest, bestiality, sexual violence and detailed instruction in crime.

If "instruction in crime" is a criterion for banning the publication of a URL, then perhaps Australians should think twice before buying this book, or even publishing this link:

Well, look at what Wikileaks wrote:

WIKILEAKS PRESS RELEASE (for immediate release)
Thu Mar 19 23:07:20 EDT 2009

"Wikileaks to Conroy: Go after our source and we will go after you."

The Stockholm based publisher of Wikileaks today issued a warning to the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Steven Conroy, who is responsible for Australian internet censorship.

Senator Conroy issued an official media release yesterday in response to Wikileaks' release of last year's confidential Australian internet censorship blacklist. The Senator said that his department, "is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution."

The Senator is perhaps unware of the legal and diplomatic risks associated with the statement.

Sunshine Press Legal Adviser Jay Lim stated:

"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."

Senator Conroy may wish to consider the position of the South African Competition Commission, which decided to cancel its own high profile leak investigation in January after being advised of the legal ramifications of interfering with Sunshine Press sources.

So now you have a possible conflict of Australian and Swedish law. This obviously isn't the only conflict between the laws of two nations, but it's an illustrative one.
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