Banned hyperlinks could cost you $11,000 a day

Posted on March 17, 2009

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The Australian communications regulator says it will fine people who hyperlink to sites on its blacklist, which has been further expanded to include several pages on the anonymous whistleblower site Wikileaks.

Wikileaks was added to the blacklist for publishing a leaked document containing Denmark’s list of banned websites.

The move by the Australian Communications and Media Authority comes after it threatened the host of online broadband discussion forum Whirlpool last week with a $11,000-a-day fine over a link published in its forum to another page blacklisted by ACMA – an anti-abortion website.

ACMA’s blacklist does not have a significant impact on web browsing by Australians today but sites contained on it will be blocked for everyone if the Federal Government implements its mandatory internet filtering censorship scheme.

But even without the mandatory censorship scheme, as is evident in the Whirlpool case, ACMA can force sites hosted in Australia to remove “prohibited” pages and even links to prohibited pages.

Online civil liberties campaigners have seized on the move by ACMA as evidence of how casually the regulator adds to its list of blacklisted sites. It also confirmed fears that the scope of the Government’s censorship plan could easily be expanded to encompass sites that are not illegal.

“The first rule of censorship is that you cannot talk about censorship,” Wikileaks said on its website in response to the ACMA ban.

The site has also published Thailand’s internet censorship list and noted that, in both the Thai and Danish cases, the scope of the blacklist had been rapidly expanded from child porn to other material including political discussions.

Already, a significant portion of the 1370-site Australian blacklist – 506 sites – would be classified R18+ and X18+, which are legal to view but would be blocked for everyone under the proposal. The Government has said it was considering expanding the blacklist to 10,000 sites and beyond.

Electronic Frontiers Australia said the leak of the Danish blacklist and ACMA’s subsequent attempts to block people from viewing it showed how easy it would be for ACMA’s own blacklist – which is secret – to be leaked onto the web once it is handed to ISPs for filtering.

“We note that, not only do these incidents show that the ACMA censors are more than willing to interpret their broad guidelines to include a discussion forum and document repository, it is demonstrably inevitable that the Government’s own list is bound to be exposed itself at some point in the future,” EFA said.

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