New South Australian Law Forbids Anonymous Political Commentary During Election Season

from the freedom-of-speech-also-includes-anonymous-speech dept

A bunch of folks have sent in the news of a new law in South Australia that forbids any anonymous political commentary leading up to elections. Literally, the law reads:
"A person must not during an election period, publish material consisting of, or containing a commentary on, any candidate or political party, or the issues being submitted to electors, in written form, in a journal published in electronic form on the internet or by radio or television or broadcast on the internet, unless the material or the program in which the material is presented contains a statement of the name and address (not being a post office box) of a person who takes responsibility for the publication of that material."
Apparently, things like The Federalist Papers would not have been welcome in South Australia. It's clearly a method of censorship, though, of course, the guy behind it, Michael Atkinson, is spinning it as the opposite of censorship: "The real point of this legislation is not blocking or censoring freedom of speech -- it's just making sure freedom of speech is attributed to the right person."

Reader cofiem points out that Atkinson has a bit of a history as being technologically reactionary, such as his strong support for banning video games that he feels are too violent even for adults. Cofiem also points to some of the legislative history behind this, which includes Atkinson making it clear that this law should apply to "blog sites, Wikipedia and internet newspapers" but thankfully he does "not want to go into twittering because that is too much like individual communication over a mobile phone. So, that is where we are putting the boundary." Phew. Each political Twitter won't need to be accompanied by your address.

That same report suggests that Atikinson has aimed this legislation at a particular online publication that he does not like:
It is being supported by Atkinson in the most appalling way -- the news reports quote him apparently frothing at the mouth about 'Adelaidenow', which the law seems implicitly to target;
Nice use of elected office to try to stifle the ability of your critics to speak freely.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Brendan (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 10:42am

    Vowed to Repeal the Terrible Law

    Atkinson has actually already responded to the massive public outcry on this stupid law, and has vowed to repeal it "retroactively, immediately following the elections."

    I'm not sure how strong this man's word is among our down under friends, but I don't see why he can't stop the bad law _now_.

    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/victory-atkinson-loosens-gag/story-e6frea6u-1225826104175

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 11:01am

    Well, if it isn't repealed, the solution is simple. Just attribute every anonymous political comment to Michael Atkinson.

     

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      Mark, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 11:59am

      Re:

      Well, it may not be repealed yet, but the Atkinson is already backing down from this law.

      "From the feedback we've received through AdelaideNow, the blogging generation believes that the law supported by all MPs and all political parties is unduly restrictive. I have listened. I will immediately after the election move to repeal the law retrospectively... It may be humiliating for me, but that's politics in a democracy and I'll take my lumps." (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/02/internet-uprising-overturns-australian-censorship-l aw.ars).

      I think the best part of the linked article is how Atkinson tried to defend the law.
      "I'll give you an example: repeatedly in the AdelaideNow website one will see commentary from Aaron Fornarino of West Croydon. That person doesn't exist," Atkinson said on the air. "That name has been created by the Liberal Party in order to run Liberal Party commentary."

      And of course, the smackdown

      This morning, AdelaideNow took great delight in posting a picture of Fornarino posing with a Mac and his young daughter. He's a second-year law student who moved to the area last year and "lives in a flat on Port Rd, about 500m from Mr. Atkinson's electorate office."

       

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      Hephaestus (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 12:44pm

      Re:

      Actually we should start a campain to help the Aussies from outside the country. We do politic commentary as Michael Atkinson.

       

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    Brian (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 11:04am

    John Smith

    It would appear John Smith is going to become a very outspoken person while this law is in effect :P

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 12:42pm

      Re: John Smith

      I think the original idea of everyone posting as Micheal Atkinson as the new John Doe of Australia is perfect. He will be such a cipher that no same person could ever vote for him.

       

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    Anony1, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 11:07am

    Would someone explain the difference between Australia and Iran again? I'm not seeing much of one.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 12:09pm

      Re:

      Australia isn't killing dissenters.

       

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      Nick Coghlan (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 12:54pm

      Re:

      Michael Atkinson is the AG of one of the less populated states rather than the Ayatollah of the whole country :)

       

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        Nick Coghlan (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 12:56pm

        Re: Re:

        Although I will grant Atkinson and Conroy make a fine pair, odds are still decent that the ongoing "internet filter" rumblings are just political grandstanding to try to keep Fielding onside in the Senate (not that it always works, but you get that).

         

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    NAMELESS.ONE, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 11:09am

    i have a better idea

    a section for anonymous and one for people who aren't scared to make there views known.
    PROB is way this world is going i want anonymous cause what repercussions are there for your views and these political types can and are at times very nasty people.

    after all almost all of them consider lobby money not to be a bribe.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 11:11am

    there isnt Anony1 its literally the same
    anyone else care to vote for australia being = to iran?
    heck france = australia = iran = china

    and dont worry ACTA will balance out the rest of us to it all.....

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 11:59am

      Re:

      "heck france = australia = iran = china

      and dont worry ACTA will balance out the rest of us to it all....."

      Er, given your equation above, will ACTA give me free reign to drink wine all day long, cook absolutely everything on a barbeque, grow the world's ugliest beard, and refuse to pronounce "L"'s correctly?

      Because if so, I may have to change to supporting ACTA....

       

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    Richard (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 11:55am

    I had heard the same thing Brendan, although now that I think about it, it's a very clever move by Atkinson... by saying he'll do it after the election, does that then make it an election issue, so therefore we can't have anonymous talk about it?
    I also want to know if these conditions extend to politicians themselves, if they now have to post their home addresses every time they make a comment to the media?

     

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    Name and Address Withheld, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 12:01pm

    My first reaction was: "How the hell do they expect to police this?" Some people (ie. Michael Atkinson) need lobotomies just to increase their IQ

     

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    Rob, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 12:17pm

    The SA law just brings the internet into line with what is already required for printed material and TV advertising in Australia during an election period. It does suggest a remarkable lack of understanding of the difficulty of enforcement.

     

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    Michial Thompson, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 12:21pm

    What's wrong with making people responsible for their actions

    Why not make idiots responsible for their actions? Too many cowards use annonomous as a way of not taking responsibility for their actions.

    I think laws such as this would hold more people responsible for their actions and would probably make it easier to trace lies both about and from politicians

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 12:31pm

      Re: What's wrong with making people responsible for their actions

      Besides the fact that there are plenty of legitimate reasons for wishing to remain anonymous...do you really think that a country's finite law enforcement resources should be spent monitoring every relevant website for political based comments, checking to see if they were anonymous or if they provided their details, checking to see if those details are correct, and then filling out all the mindless bureaucratic paperwork that will inevitably be involved?

       

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      Luci, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 10:56pm

      Re: What's wrong with making people responsible for their actions

      Yes, because the founding fathers of the United States didn't use pseudonyms for ANY of their political papers for fear of being shot or hung for treason!

      Does history mean that little to you? There are many times that remaining anonymous has a reason.

       

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    Chris, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 1:06pm

    Not so much worried about the law...

    More concerned that it can spring into place without any one complaining until it's in place. Didn't this trigger alarm bells with ANYONE involved in the process?!

     

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      Chargone (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 1:56pm

      Re: Not so much worried about the law...

      given how many such processes in so many countries are specifically designed to prevent the public knowing about it until after the fact, while simultaneously making it look like it's their fault they don't know about it...

      this doesn't surprise me at all.

       

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    Anony1, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 1:56pm

    by Anonymous Coward
    Australia isn't killing dissenters.



    It's true, but for me at least, the implied comparison related directly to free speech. There may be similarities in other areas of government policy, and others may differ significantly. My point was simply that policies like this are in line with some implemented by Iran, or China, for instance. Yes there have been attempts at censorship in America, but Australia has been implementing quite a few restrictions in terms of the internet/speech recently.
    The UK is similarly placed, but not as bad, IMHO.

    @Chris: EXCELLENT point.

     

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      nasch (profile), Feb 4th, 2010 @ 7:31am

      Re:

      by Anonymous Coward
      Australia isn't killing dissenters.



      It's true, but for me at least, the implied comparison related directly to free speech.


      How is killing dissenters not related to free speech? It's simply the most extreme form of censorship possible.

       

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    Michael Atkinson, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 2:56pm

    I will track each of you down!

    You anonymous punks! I will track each and every one of you down just as soon as i am able to remove my head from my ass.

    Oh yeah, and after the election i won't offer any more stupid laws like this one. Uhh, this is just a one time thing.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 3:23pm

    Did you know that it's cheaper to comment anonymously on the interent than it is to force everybody to post as themselves? True story.

    I wonder if there will still be anonymous cowards in ten years? You know, if it's cheaper, for everyone involved, to remain anonymous than it is to post as yourself.

    Who pays for that global enforcement? Is it everyone? Is everyone in agreement that anonymity is bad for the network? The only people I see really complaining are politicians and 20th century distributors and a few cranks.

    Will they pay for it?

     

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    btr1701 (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 3:42pm

    Jurisdictions

    I wonder if this guy understands that the vast majority of the internet isn't subject to South Australian law? Apparently not, as the article mentions that he thinks this law will apply to Wikipedia, which I feel safe in guessing is not physically based in South Australia.

    Makes me want to research and anonymously comment on a South Australian election issue from my comfy home in Virginia and see what Mr. Atkinson thinks he can do about it.

     

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    1DandyTroll, Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 5:32pm

    Uhm

    Really?

    How about if you use off shore servers?

     

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    Yeebok (profile), Feb 3rd, 2010 @ 9:54pm

    As for the law this relates to, I heard about it yesterday on Twitter. I live in NSW (mid east coast) rather than SA (mid southern coast) though. Since we don't have free speech actually written down as a right anywhere (I think at most it's implied) - his comments about that particular paper were pretty inflammatory though. I think "den of identity theft" was one phrase (and adding addresses everywhere would only worsen that ..)

    So far as the filter and related stupidity goes, that seems to be progressing "nicely" - however there's starting to be a bit of a backlash about it. Sadly much of the public as with any country don't understand the finer points of the issue or think it won't bother them. At election time the filter was to be opt in, so some may think it won't apply.
    As comment 1 has said, Atkinson has stated he will repeal the law after the election, but as I commented earlier this implies he thinks he's guaranteed a seat. Due to political alignments, the confused old duffer's actually pretty safe which is a big worry.
    To add to the points added by Cofiem, he is also the *sole* force behind us not having an R18 games rating. (To change the classification rules all attorney generals - 1 per state, ie 7 - have to agree unanimously).
    I am not sure what rating Alien Vs Predator got in the US or other countries (I assume R or 18/21 age requirement), here the unmodified version will be available to 15 year olds. (The game was refused classification (banned), the developer refused to soften it, so they suddenly realised since it was scifi the violence wasn't a problem) That's a separate issue, but that's one platform people are campaigning against him on. The classification board can only rule within the guidelines they have, obviously.

    Add the internet filter, and sadly the comparisons to Iran and China much as I find them distasteful, are a fair comparison. I think on the whole, their politicians seem to know more about the inter-webs than ours.

     

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    IntLibber (profile), Feb 4th, 2010 @ 3:53am

    Frankly I didn't think that Australians lacked the balls to say how they feel to their politicians faces, loudly, with Fosters in hand...

     

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    Anony1, Feb 4th, 2010 @ 8:01am

    How is killing dissenters not related to free speech? It's simply the most extreme form of censorship possible.


    @nasch: Apparently, you've misread me here. Obviously stifiling dissent through killing is the most extreme form of censorship. I was simply saying that by comparing Australia to Iran (or China), I wasn't implying that they are on an equal footing as the methods used. Killing someone is most definately more than a step farther than the law in question here. So killing dissenters is related to free speech, but the comparison related to free speech restrictions via the law, not killing. The lengths that some countries are willing to go to, in order to achieve censorship are in general, not practiced in most democracies. BTW, that's called spelling it out. Sigh...

     

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    Soap, Feb 4th, 2010 @ 1:28pm

    Dangerous stupidity...

    Did anyone else notice the inherent danger in having your name and address plastered everywhere along with political statements one way or another...

    Wait till someone supports a hot topic like late term abortion or Muslim rights and watch his house get firebombed by someone who disagrees.

    Great concept, lets show people who want to hurt you where you are.

     

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    yozoo, Feb 8th, 2010 @ 10:48am

    well . . . treason

    "Apparently, things like The Federalist Papers would not have been welcome in South Australia."

    They were considered treason when written, thats why the authors originally used psuedonyms (and why they still remain difficult to attribute)

     

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