The New York Times reported yesterday that “[t]he Australian government plans to test a nationwide Web filtering system that would force Internet service providers to block access to thousands of sites containing questionable or illegal content, prompting cries of censorship from advocacy groups.”
Not surprisingly, according to the article, Australia is using the same tried-and-true justification of needing to protect itself (and its citizens) from terrorism and child pornography.
It’s not to say that child pornography and terrorism aren’t legitimate concerns. It’s just that these are the same, all-too-often abused excuses used to cast a much wider net that unjustifiably censors peaceful expression.
So, it’s understandable that people would fear that Australia may be joining the ranks of more infamous censoring regimes, like China, that routinely limit access to information and restrict freedom of expression.
The implications for U.S. companies that provide internet services in Australia are clear: just as in other parts of the world, they will likely again be asked to comply with requests that violate human rights standards relating to freedom of expression and privacy.
A role for the U.S. government is also clear: congress must act to reinvigorate and pass the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA), previously introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). GOFA, in its previous form, would allow the U.S. government to step in and stop U.S. companies from complying with requests that violate international human rights standards.