Friday, July 17, 2009

Secret Outback Blacklists

I'm going to have to resist using exclamation points after every sentence as I write this. It really is that outrageous.

I stumbled across an entry in a Canadian law blog that may be the next site added to the blacklist in question.

The Australian government -- yes, Australia, not China or Myanmar but Australia! -- plans to ban more than 1,300 websites. More than that, it wants to prohibit even linking to them.

"That’s not just like banning books," writes blog author Ezra Levant. "It’s like banning books, and banning saying the banned book’s title."

Right now it's only a pilot program with cooperation by Internet service providers. But if this voluntary test run works, it could become law, for which violators would risk a fine of $11,000. Per day!

That's not the best part. In a Catch-22 that would make Joseph Heller proud, and maybe Adolph Hitler too, the Aussie authorities won't reveal what sites are on the blacklist. That would, of course, be against the law. So you can't know that you've broken the law until you're arrested for doing it.

I'm guessing most of the sites are NSFW and many may be illegal. But how would you know? The blacklist was compiled in secret. Unless it leaked, which it has. The website published the entire list.

And I was right. There are a lot of sites whose very names will turn your stomach with disgust. Then there are sites like and, which are online poker sites. Not my thing but worth banning? Oops. Linking to those sites myself might have earned me place on the blacklist as well as an $11,000 fine. Today.

If I lived in some backwoods bush like Australia, that is.

The Sydney Morning Herald, which apparently has more time to scan the list -- and less fear of what its links might lead to -- than I do, found a dentist's website. The article points out the problem when perfectly innocuous sites make the blacklist: Their owners get lumped in with the child pornographers and other criminals because some bureaucrat somewhere, who doesn't have to answer for his actions, added them to the list, perhaps accidentally.

Incredible. If this actually becomes law you wonder:

Can the Sydney Witch Trials be far behind?

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