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.
On Saturday, November 8, Indonesia executed three men (Amrozi bin H. Nurhasyim, Ali Ghufron, aka Mukhlas, and Imam Samudera) known as the “Bali Bombers”, because of the bombings for which they were convicted on the island of Bali which killed over 200 people, many of them tourists from Australia. The days leading up to these executions were fraught with high drama, with opinions on all sides coming in from Indonesia, Australia and beyond.
Arguments about whether the executions would make martyrs out of the Bali Bombers dominated the discussion. Although the long-term impact remains to be seen, one of the pre-requisites for martyrdom is to be killed by your sworn enemies, and this is something the 3 have now successfully accomplished.
Despite being the 5th most populous nation in the world, with around 230 million inhabitants, Indonesia has not been a particularly high executing country, at least not until this year. Just one execution was carried out in 2007; and only 11 in the past decade. But, according to Amnesty International, there have now been 10 executions just since June 26 of this year (although, by way of comparison, during this same time period, Texas has executed 14 prisoners, with 5 more scheduled for the remainder of this year).
Australia, home to 88 of the victims of the Bali bombings, appears to be taking the lead in trying to reverse this trend, both in Indonesia and around the world. Shortly after the Bali Bombers were put to death, the Australian government, supported by the main opposition parties, announced that it will be co-sponsoring a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly calling for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment.