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An opinion on the us governments censorship attempts on the internet

We're arresting you for speeding. What's the speed limit, officer?

What's going on?

The speed limit is secret. Over the last two years, Wikileaks has exposed detailed secret government censorship lists or plans for over eight countries, including Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, and Germany. Although Wikileaks' main site has been censored by the Chinese Public Security Bureau since early 2007, last week saw the site placed onto a secret list of sites "forbidden" by the Australian Media and Communications Authority, or ACMA.

The pro-censorship governments exposed by Wikileaks can be divided into three broad categories: Countries with a mandatory censorship system in place: Thailand, the UAE, and Lebanon films.

Countries proposing a mandatory censorship system: Countries in which the internet censorship system is an unregulated agreement between several large ISPs and the police: Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Australia and Germany are the only liberal democracies proposing a mandatory internet censorship regime. All of the schemes operate, or are proposed to operate, through multi-million dollar national networks of censorship machines. The machines spy on the nation as each citizen attempts to read on the internet, and compares requested pages to those listed on a secret government "blacklist".

  • Supreme Court upheld CIPA, although it was unclear how many libraries would comply with the law; immediately after the decision, many public librarians registered their dissatisfaction with the decision;
  • They are used as a regular straw and the filter inside prevents the contaminants to pass;
  • The data have the added advantage of having been gathered contemporaneous to the passage of COPA, which was the focus of the 2004 Court decision.

If the page is on the blacklist, the government forcibly prevents the citizen from viewing the information by intercepting his or her internet communication and diverting it to a machine controlled by the censorship system. This machine is often configured to record the identity of the person attempting to access the forbidden information. If the page is not on the blacklist, the government grants permission for the citizen to view the page.

Although originally marketed, in all countries, as a way of combating child pornography, the blacklists obtained by Wikileaks show that the systems have already been corrupted into censoring other content, including political content. For instance, the secret blacklist for Thailand censors thousands of sites per year deemed to be critical of the Thai Monarchy, from academic books and YouTube to the Economist magazine and Wikileaks itself.

Similarly, the blacklist for Australia contains an anti-abortion site, fringe religions, a dentist clinic, gay sites, gambling sites, islamist sites, euthanasia activist sites, an astrologer's blog, misclassified material, and, like Thailand, Wikileaks itself.

Even the Australian government's "Minister for censorship", Senator Stephen Conroy, has admitted that fully half of the sites on the secret list are unrelated to child pornography.

As newspapers and other publications migrate to an exclusive life on the internet, such totalizing censorship systems are able to instantly snatch "pages" from the laps of citizens across an entire nation, interdicting communications between publisher and reader, and the new civil discourse between readers and each other. The scale, speed and potential impact of this centralized intervention has no historical precedent. Secret national censorship systems are dangerous and unaccountable.

They are an afront to natural justice, due process and the balancing power of the fourth estate.

  1. Lead poisoning can cause anemia, but also damage to the brain and the kidneys. Likewise we should not ignore the cruel suppression of indigenous cultures, languages and non-written literature for which Europeans also are responsible.
  2. Censoring this type of behavior has universal appeal and arguably increases social welfare because individuals can dedicate more resources to productive activity rather than protecting themselves from every individual with which they interact.
  3. Soon other secular rulers of Europe followed suit.

They must be, and will be, stopped. The Australian Government has stated it plans to increase the size of its blacklist list by 10 fold, from roughly 1,200 blocked pages to over 10,000, although the plan is now seems unlikely to pass the Australian Senate after the revelations of the last month.

Within the libraries and book catalogues of Germany and Australia there are books web pages forbidden by the state. The government of Australia has compiled a secret list of books it forbids.

About 1,200 books are on the list.

Submit documents to WikiLeaks

Not even authors or publishers whose books are placed on the list are told their book has been banned. Germany plans to adopt and expand a version of the Australian scheme. Under the plans of the German and Australian governments, every attempt to borrow a book read a web page will be checked against the secret "forbidden books" forbidden web pages list. If a book is on the list, the attempt to borrow it is noted down in another secret list and permission is refused.

If the book is not on the blacklist, permission is granted. The list of forbidden books the blacklist is a forbidden book. The lists of books forbidden in other countries are also forbidden books. Any book that mentions the title URL of a forbidden book is itself a forbidden book. An international investigative newspaper Wikileaks reveals key internal documents on the censorship expansion plans for Germany, Australia and other countries.

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For Australia this expose includes the lists of forbidden books and the presence of clearly political books on the list. The newspaper warns that Australia is acting like a "democratic backwater" and risks following the censorship path of Thailand.

The article and lists, and then the entire newspaper secretly added to the list of publications banned by Australia. The Australian "Minister for censorship", Senator Stephen Conroy, states "Any citizen who distributes [the blacklist] is at serious risk of criminal prosecution".

  • The March 24th raid is not the first time the German state has attempted to censor Wikileaks; back in December 2008, Ernst Uhrlau, former police chief and current head of the BND, Germany's equivalent to the CIA, threatened to prosecute the site unless it removed a BND dossier on corrupt officials in Kosovo and other information;
  • While Western and democratic governments and human rights defenders justly criticize the abuses committed in new democracies and non-democratic countries, however, we should not forget the dark history of censorship in Europe and its colonized countries;
  • The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship;
  • Department of Justice, 2001;
  • A lot of cities in the USA are made with lead pipes because that was normal back in the day.

The Minister threatens to refer the leak to the Australian Federal Police. That same week, the newspaper releases three more articles on censorship and updates the lists of forbidden books.

Two buildings related to the newspaper in Germany are then raided by 11 plain clothed police. The police demand the keys passwords to a protected room server containing the newspaper's printing press so they can disable it.

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The newspaper staff refuse to comply--both the keys and the press itself have been sent to Sweden, a country with stronger legal protections for journalists. The German police then seize what they believe to be the newspaper's archives a hardrive and a typewriter laptop "for evidence". For every noble human desire, in this case, the strong protective feelings most adults have towards children, opportunists such as Senator Conroy and his German equivalent, CDU Minister Ursula von der Leyen, stand ready to exploit these feelings for their own power and position.

  • Nevertheless, the experts are hopeful that the odds in this fight favor the society who uses the Internet, despite huge efforts by the repressive regimes to stifle this mode of communication;
  • Likewise we should not ignore the cruel suppression of indigenous cultures, languages and non-written literature for which Europeans also are responsible;
  • The role of media in times of war was starkly demonstrated in the spring of 1999 when the NATO alliance started the campaign of bombing designed to secure peace and human rights, and also force the Yugoslavian government to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo;
  • These lists of books banned for their heretical or ideologically dangerous content, were issued by the Roman Catholic Church;
  • However, the libraries themselves have challenged this practice;
  • That same week, the newspaper releases three more articles on censorship and updates the lists of forbidden books.

Von der Leyen apparently hopes to raise her profile before a national election by promoting a national censorship "solution" to child pornography. But forcibly preventing the average parent from seeing evidence of what may be an abuse against a child is not the same as stopping abuses against children.

Cheap attempts on internet censorship

Absense of evidence is not evidence of absense. Censoring the evidence promotes abuses by driving them underground, where they are difficult to track. Such schemes divert resources and political will away from proven policing solutions which target producers and consumers.

Children depend, even more than their parents, on the quality and viability of government. An assault against those systems and ideals which keep government honest and accountable - public oversight, natural justice, and protection from state censorship - is not just an affront to Enlightment ideals, but an assult on the long term interests of children and adults alike. The March 24th raid is not the first time the German state has attempted to censor Wikileaks; back in December 2008, Ernst Uhrlau, former police chief and current head of the BND, Germany's equivalent to the CIA, threatened to prosecute the site unless it removed a BND dossier on corrupt officials in Kosovo and other information.

The dossier was not removed. There is no evidence that the police action and the BND incident are related, but the situation, together with a recent Bundestag inquiry documenting illegal BND spying on the German press, does not paint a flattering picture of the state of German government.