All The Stupid Shit The Australian Government Has Done To The Internet

Gaffes, barnacles and distractions aside, the Government has done some monumentally stupid shit in the last 30 days. It's been a legislative month that has seen the introduction of a micro-internet filter, data retention and a Government net nanny. What the hell?!

Side effects of the Australian Government legislating the internet may include you slamming your head so hard on your desk that you pass out. Here's what we're dealing with.

Site Blocking

After a year of consultation with industry (read: rights-holders) on how the Government can best crack-down on piracy, an anti-piracy Bill designed to block infringing sites has now been introduced to the Parliament. Here's what it says.

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 gives rights-holders the ability to apply for certain sites to be blocked if they're deemed to be for the purpose of infringing copyright or illegally distributing copyrighted material.

Rights-holders can ask the courts to block sites hosted outside of Australia under the new legislation, meaning that internet service providers may soon be blocking access to everything from The Pirate Bay through to bootleg streaming sites.

MORE: The Pirate Bay Is Successfully Dodging ISP-Level Site Blocking

When deciding whether or not to block a site, the Federal Court must take a few things into account. It must test:

• the flagrancy of the infringement or [the site's] facilitation • whether disabling access to the online location is a proportionate response in the circumstances • the impact on any person likely to be affected by the grant of the injunction, and • whether it is in the public interest to disable access to the online location.

The explanatory memorandum for the Bill states that it's an "intentionally high threshold test" for laws that should only be used to block flagrant infringers of copyright.

When introducing the Bill to the Lower House, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that, in addition to the site-blocking legislation, "the government accepts that [availability of content locally] is important," in reducing online copyright infringement.

Turnbull praised rights-holders in Parliament by continuing to make new offerings available to Australian users to give more choice.

Mandatory Data Retention

After two days of fierce debate, the Data Retention legislation passed the Senate last night.

In 18 months, the Government will force telcos and ISPs to retain a whole mess of information on their users in the name of national security. Including:

• IP addresses • Customer details • Call and text data • Location • And more

When the policy was going to be introduced, it looked like the Labor Opposition was going to do its job and make the Government work for bi-partisan support of the metadata retention Bill. It pushed for a delay of the Bill when it was introduced into the House of Reps last year and subjected it to a Parliamentary Committee in order to scrutinise it.

But once the Opposition's weak-sauce amendments were added to the Bill, they folded like a camping chair. No surprise, really, considering it was a Labor policy to start with.

Government Net Nanny

On 19 March, the Government went right ahead (against the advice of giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google) and appointed the E-Safety Commissioner. Alastair McGibbon is his name, and he'll be able fine companies up to $17,000 per day for every day they don't comply with Government take-down requests.

The Coalition Government thinks that the internet is a dangerous place. A place that needs to be fenced off from our kids so that they don’t stub their proverbial toes on the big, bad online world out there. They want their Government-appointed “cyber-commissioner” (kill me now) to help keep kids safe on big social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Wouldn’t you know it, though: Facebook, Twitter and Google all think that’s a stupid idea.

In a submission to the Government’s public consultation into keeping kids safe, the big social players who have offices in Australia roundly condemned the proposal for a Government-appointed online safety commissioner via their local industry body, the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA).

The submission said that the proposal should be “reconsidered”, but it’s a warning that doesn’t seem to have landed.

“A policy that clamps down heavily on the things that young people can say to each other on larger responsible sites has potential to drive young people to engage in risk-taking behaviour on services that have less well-developed protections in place and are not covered by the legislated scheme,” AIMIA wrote, adding:

“Given the government’s commitment to de-regulation and reduction in red tape and lack of evidence that existing mechanisms are not operating as intended, we respectfully submit that the government should reconsider the proposal to introduce legislation to take down content and rather work to extend [existing protocols] to apply to more services.”

On the one hand, it’s not an entirely bad idea to take action against online bullying. Clearly there needs to be more self-regulation at an industry level because right now, a lot of online bullying material posted by the attackers goes unchallenged.

On the other, it’s just more talk designed to placate parental interest groups that is potentially ripe for abuse.

Facebook has said in an additional submission to the government’s inquiry that giving people the ability too broad a definition of “objectionable content”.

Furthermore, the e-commissioner wouldn’t be able to achieve his or her mission of taking down content within 24-48 hours due to the need for proper investigation and action.

Not all of these policies are law yet, but the point is that they will be, and that sucks from an internet freedom perspective. Whereas other parts of the world has a free and open internet, Australia has to make to with what the Government thinks we can be trusted with. Goddammit.

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