Saturday, March 18, 2006

Australian government shuts down spoof site

Chinese-style censorship coming to a country near you!

This is what happens in countries without a Bill of Rights.

A spoof John Howard website that featured a soul searching "apology" speech for the Iraq war has been shut down under orders from the Australian Government.

Richard Neville, an Australian futurist and social commentator was "mystified" to discover his satirical website had been blocked on Tuesday with no explanation from either his web hosting company, Yahoo or the domain name registrar, Melbourne IT.

He said that after two days of silence, a customer service representative from Melbourne IT today informed him by telephone that the site had "been closed on the advice from the Australian Government".

Mr Neville's satirical "apology" speech ran on a mocked-up version of a spoof website that resembled Mr Howard's own, and after going live on Monday, received 10,500 visits within 24 hours.

Bruce Tonkin, the chief technology officer at Melbourne IT, said the site had been shut down in response to a request from the Prime Minister's office on basis that it looked too similar to its own site.

"If we receive a complaint from an intellectual property basis claiming that a website directly infringes the rights of another site we would check it, and if it is a direct copy we would suspend the site," he said.

He said the issue of whether or not the content was satirical was of no consequence to Melbourne IT. "To us it looks like a phishing site," he said.

Mr Neville contests that there are any similarities between a satirical website and a phishing operation, which would typically carry an intent of data or financial theft.

"I don't see how you can make judgements that ignore the content or intention of the site. To give the satire more impact it was important to make it look like an official speech. Obviously there was no hacking of the original site, and I did not choose to make it too close to the actual design, and my name and address were readily accessible," he said.

He added that one of the reasons he had chosen Yahoo's hosting service was because it did not have any obvious policies that restricted the nature of content that could be published.

"If there were objections to the content on the site, isn't there a democratic tradition that I be informed of it," he said.

Mr Neville describes the parody as an act of satire and culture jamming, and is now running a link to a PDF copy of the speech on his website.

He has been involved in satirical publishing since the 1960's when he edited Oz magazine, which covered contentious issues of the time. However some of the subject matter led to obsenity charges for him and his colleagues, that were later overturned.

You can now see the results of Australia's draconian anti-terrorism legislation of 2005, which reaffirms and expands the disused, yet unrepealed Australian sedition law and effectively prohibits anti-government dissent.

Please support the NSWCCL campaign for an Australian Bill of Rights now!

EDIT: Now the tendency is spreading out to the United States

In an unusual and little-known case, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office has seized four computer hard drives from a Lancaster newspaper as part of a statewide grand-jury investigation into leaks to reporters.

The dispute pits the government's desire to solve an alleged felony - computer hacking - against the news media's fear that taking the computers circumvents the First Amendment and the state Shield Law.

The state Supreme Court declined last week to take the case, allowing agents to begin analyzing the data.

"This is horrifying, an editor's worst nightmare," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington. "For the government to actually physically have those hard drives from a newsroom is amazing. I'm just flabbergasted to hear of this."

The precedent has been set. As I've predicted before, repression used in foreign countries will be used to justify repressions conducted in your own country, Bill of Rights or not. This is why constitutional documents can no longer be assumed to protect people just because they exist. They must be upheld, and the government must be confronted with its violation, or else it is nothing but a piece of paper (as Bush put it quite eloquently).

For people in countries without a Bill of Rights, you must act as if one were in effect, and clamour for the government to uphold the values of a free and democratic society. You might think it's too late or impractical at this point to implement a Bill of Rights, but the simple action of campaigning for it establishes its legitimacy. Rights are not guaranteed by legal documents; they are guaranteed when they are recognised and demanded by the people.


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