If the brief history of the internet is anything to go by — and it is — the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is about to cop a whack from the ol’ cluestick in the form of the Streisand Effect. Again.
Anti-censorship campaigners have been submitting websites to ACMA to find out what gets added to their secret blacklist of prohibited content — a list which minister Senator Stephen Conroy keeps spinning as “mainly” child abuse material. Crikey has previously reported that parts of US anti-abortion website Abortion TV have been blacklisted: photographs of dismembered aborted fetuses, which are confronting but legal for adults to view. Since then, ACMA has blacklisted pages from whistleblower site Wikileaks which reveal the secret censorship blacklists used in Denmark and Thailand — even their media release about those posts.
Now ACMA is going after pages that merely link to blacklisted material.
Bulletproof Networks, who host the Whirlpool forum, were issued with an “interim link-deletion notice” on 10 March for linking to the Abortion TV pages. According to The Australian, the notice stated that a forum page “may contain links to other websites that may contain ‘prohibited content’ or ‘potentially prohibited content’”. Bulletproof was ordered to pull the material “as soon as practicable, and in any event by 6pm on the next business day” or face fines of up to $11,000 per day.
With a business to run, Bulletproof caved in.
But ACMA’s strategy could go very wrong…
In 2002, Kenneth Adelman took this photo of a California mansion, one of 12,000 images in a long-term study of coastal erosion. The mansion belongs to Barbra Streisand. Citing breach of privacy, in 2003 Streisand sued for $50 million. The inevitable publicity meant that instead of being seen by a handful of scientists, the photo was viewed by 420,000. In the first month.
In 2007, American lawyers sent cease-and-desist notices to websites publishing the random number 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0, the key used to decode encrypted data on some HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs. The result? Within a week, more than 700,000 websites published the “secret” number. It appeared on t-shirts, in comics, songs and poems and even tattoos.
In 2008, the Church of Scientology tried to stop Wikileaks publishing certain of their secrets. Wikileaks responded by vowing to “release several thousand additional pages of Scientology material next week”. As did others.
And only three months ago, the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation blacklisted the Wikipedia page for the Scorpions’ album Virgin Killers because the cover includes “a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18”. Result? It suddenly became one of the most popular pages on Wikipedia, and the image spread rapidly to other sites.
Does ACMA not learn?
According to ACMA, a link to “prohibited” material is itself prohibited. How about a link to a link, such as a link to Abortion TV’s home page, which in turn links to the prohibited page? How about a description of how to find the page, such as “Go to Abortion TV’s website and search for X” of “click on the fourth button”? What if a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand blogs post the same instructions?
What if I write those instructions on paper, outside ACMA’s jurisdiction?
Just where does it end?
I’m wondering if ACMA intends spending all day playing this ludicrous game of Whac-A-Mole? I’m wondering how any of this “protects the children”?