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Comparing freedom of information

Written By: - Date published: 2:59 pm, March 30th, 2009 - 2 comments
Categories: International - Tags: , , , , ,

Idiot/Savant has a great post in an aussie blog Larvatus Prodeo on the legal and operational differences between our Official Information Act 1982 compared to the Australian Freedom Of Information Act.

Journalists, academics, lobby groups, opposition politicians and ordinary troublemakers like me are routinely given sensitive documents they would never be allowed to see in Australia. This allows us not only to build a better picture of what our government is doing – it also allows us to hold it to account.

The differences are striking especially in the comments on the post about the attitudes to releasing information to the public in Australia. The OIA has been embraced by virtually every side of the political system here, and has probably contributed greatly to the quality of government here.

The second reason is that the government has generally got with the program and accepted the Act in the spirit is was intended. A public service that was suspicious and defensive in 1982 has transformed itself into one that is open and accessible. From being a threat, the possibility of advice being subject to an OIA request is now seen as a discipline by public servants: it makes them perform better.


Ministers have been less accepting, but over the years the OIA has become embedded, and they understand they can’t get away with hiding things. Its telling that while the Act includes a Cabinet veto on release, it hasn’t been used for over twenty years; the government accepts that it is bound by the Act and the decisions of the Ombudsmen – even unto releasing highly sensitive costings of an election policy mere days before an election.

That difference in governance transparency explains to me the otherwise ridiculous assumptions in the story “Leaked Australian blacklist reveals banned sites” reported by the The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Australian communications regulator’s top-secret blacklist of banned websites has been leaked on to the web and paints a harrowing picture of Australia’s forthcoming internet censorship regime.

I helped campaign against a similar bill here in the 90’s where some MP’s thought that requiring net-nanny type programs on all computers would protect children.  As a comment in the story reports

University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt said the leaked list “constitutes a condensed encyclopedia of depravity and potentially very dangerous material”.

He said the leaked list would become “the concerned parent’s worst nightmare” as curious children would inevitably seek it out.

But about half of the sites on the list are not related to child porn and include a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.

“It seems to me as if just about anything can potentially get on the list,” Landfelt said.

Kids would also locate the information about how to bypass the site locks and circumvent the protection. The information would become freely available in the schoolyard. Most parents are too computer illiterate to do anything about it and would be better off being good parents and explaining the choices to the curious kids.

The potential for abuse of the system would be rather high for a censorious government. For instance

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, dug up the blacklist after ACMA added several Wikileaks pages to the list following the site’s publication of the Danish blacklist.

He said secret censorship systems were “invariably corrupted”, pointing to the Thailand censorship list, which was originally billed as a mechanism to prevent child pornography but contained more than 1200 sites classified as criticizing the royal family.

In NZ information would probably be accessible by a OIA or at least an outline of the policy for inclusion would be. In aussie, they’d just hide it as being against the public interest, and then try to legislate against it being released.

ACMA said Australians caught distributing the list or accessing child pornography sites on the list could face criminal charges and up to 10 years in prison.

Yeah right. The list will be leaked by geeks as soon as it gets dispersed to the ISP’s because it will attempt to block unrelated sites.

Hattip: No Right Turn


2 comments on “Comparing freedom of information”

  1. BLiP 1

    More great work from the Idiot Savant, thanks. That quote from Wikipleaks: “The first rule of censorship is that you cannot talk about censorship,” is one we should all bear in mind.

    I wonder what sites National would like to see banned.

  2. Ferdinand 2

    Speaking of copying post whole sale. I see Bryce Edwards has been writing for Kiwiblog:


    Not at all like David’s style. Very much like Bryce’s and yet it has David’s name on it. If Bryce Edwards is a leftist why is he pretending to be David Farrar?

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