Sydney: A top media rights watchdog has listed Australia along with Iran and North Korea in a report on countries that pose a threat of internet censorship.
According to the report, Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders on Thursday put Australia and South Korea on its list of countries “under surveillance” in its “Internet Enemies” report.
Australia was listed for the government’s plan to block access to websites featuring material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse.
Critics say the plan is a misguided measure that will harm civil liberties by blocking a broader range of content than just nasty material.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has said he plans to introduce legislation by the end of next week that would require ISPs to block a blacklist of “refused classification” websites for all Australians.
A spokeswoman for Senator Conroy said the legislation would be introduced “after it has been considered by caucus and cabinet”.
The latest report was seized on by Peter Coroneos, the managing director of the Internet Industry Association, who said it showed the international reception to the proposed internet filter.
“This regrettably puts Australia on notice that, despite the Rudd Government’s best intentions, any mandatory filtering policy is likely to be perceived internationally in ways that will not benefit our reputation as a free and open society,” he said.
“It will likely be used by less open societies as a vindication of their Internet censorship regimes, despite any domestic attempts to draw distinctions. Mandatory filtering is mandatory filtering by whatever colour it is painted,” he added.
In South Korea, the RSF (Reporters Sans Frontieres ) report added, “draconian laws are creating too many specific restrictions on web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting self-censorship”.
“These countries are worrying us because they have measures that could have repercussions for freedom of expression on the Internet,” said RSF secretary general Jean-Francois Julliard.
Russia and Turkey were also added to the watchlist, which is a category below RSF’s top “Enemies of the internet”, the countries it considers the 12 worst web freedom violators.
These include Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam.
“The world’s largest netizen prison is in China, which is far out ahead of other countries with 72 detainees, followed by Vietnam and then by Iran, which have all launched waves of brutal attacks on websites in recent months,” RSF’s report said.