Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Australian Censorship: Google Vs. The Communications Minister
By Roger Browne
In a radio interview
on 29 March, Australia’s communications minister Stephen Conroy had some strong things to say about Google:
“Notwithstanding their alleged ’do no evil’ policy, they recently created something called Buzz and there was a reaction. People said ’well, look aren’t you publishing private information?’,” Senator Conroy said.
The founder of Google said the following: ’If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place’. He also said recently to Wall Street analysts: ’We love cash’.
So when people say ’shouldn’t we just leave it up to the Googles of this world to determine what the filtering policy should be?’ - make no mistake, anybody who wants to go onto Google’s sites now and look up their filtering policy will actually find they filter more material and a broader range of topics than we are proposing to put forward.
I’ll back our Parliament to stand fast on these issues from Google.”
Google and the Australian Government haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye recently on matters relating to censorship.
In January, Google said that it would not “voluntarily” comply with the Australian government’s request to censor YouTube videos in accordance with the government’s broad content rules.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy referred to Google’s censorship on behalf of the Chinese and Thai governments when he made his case for Google to impose censorship in Australia.
A week later, Google caved. In response to a complaint that a page on Encyclopedia Dramatica violated the Australian Anti Discrimination Act, Google “removed the website from google.com.au”.
The government recently invited submissions relating to its proposals for mandatory internet filtering, and the submissions have now been published. Google submitted a 24-page document (pdf), in which Google made the following points:
- “Our primary concern is that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide. At Google we have a bias in favour of people’s right to free expression. While we recognise that protecting the free exchange of ideas and information cannot be without some limits, we believe that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.”
- “Some limits, like child pornography, are obvious ... Google, like many other Internet companies, has a global, all-product ban against child sexual abuse material, which is illegal in almost every country, and we filter out this content from our search results and remove it from our products.”
- ”... a mandatory filtering regime (...) is a massive undertaking which could negatively impact user access speeds. Furthermore, the filtering of material from high-volume sites (for example Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter) appears to not be technologically possible, as it would have such a serious impact on Internet access. There appears to be an expectation that such sites would voluntarily agree to remove or locally block all content judged to be RC [Refused Classification] under the Government’s proposed system.”
- “YouTube is a platform for free expression. We have clear policies about what is allowed and not allowed on the site. For example, we do not permit hate speech or sexually explicit material, and all videos uploaded must comply with our Community Guidelines. Like all law-abiding companies, YouTube complies with the laws in the countries in which we operate. When we receive a valid legal request like a court order to remove content alleged to violate local laws, we first check that the request complies with the law, and we will seek to narrow it if the request is overly broad. Beyond these clearly defined parameters, we will not remove material from YouTube.”
- “Our primary concern is that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide (...) RC is a broad category of content that includes not just child sexual abuse material but also socially and politically controversial material – for example, educational content on safer drug use – as well as the grey realms of material instructing in any crime, including politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia. This type of content may be unpleasant and unpalatable but we believe that the Government should not mandate the blocking of information which can inform debate of controversial issues. Our services, particularly YouTube, contain a substantial amount of material
related to controversial issues, some of which could be rated as RC. The
Government’s policy for filtering represents a direct threat to content uploaded by YouTube users and we are committed to advocating on behalf of our users and their right to express their views and gain access to information.”
- “Exposing politically controversial topics for public debate is vital for democracy. Homosexuality was a crime in Australia (...) Political and social norms change over time and benefit from intense public scrutiny and debate. The openness of the Internet makes this scrutiny and debate all the more possible, and should be protected.”
On the assumption that internet filtering is likely to be introduced, Google then proposes in considerable detail how to minimise the harm it causes. Google proposes prior notice to the site owner, a period to implement takedown before filtering is imposed, an appeal process, regular review and audit, and transparency as to how much content of each category has been blocked.
Throughout the proposal, I get the impression that Google is particularly concerned about the effect of mandatory internet filtering on YouTube. One blocked video would force access to the whole of YouTube through a proxy server, with massive performance implications.
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