Danny Yee >> Internet Censorship in Australia >> Education

A Response
to a proposal by Australian University IT Departments for a
Relating to Content That May Infringe Censorship Laws

                               CODE of PRACTICE
             Relating to Content That May Infringe Censorship Laws

 The primary purpose of University I.T. Services organisational units is to
 provide services to the university community.

 That primary objective is subject to a range of constraints, including:
    * practicality and humanity of procedures;
    * respect for intellectual freedoms;
    * respect for social norms;

I totally and vehemently reject the idea that any section of a university, information technology or otherwise, should be required to show "respect for social norms". The term is both completely vague and totally askance with the role universities and other centres of learning have historically played in criticising and changing social norms, something which often requires showing disrespect for them. (Slavery used to be a "social norm"!)

    * compliance with the law; and

Why does a Code of Practice need to mention this? Why not include "compliance with the laws of physics" as well? Surely it is understood that university IT services at Australian universities are, like all other organisations and individuals in the country, subject to Australian law.


 Obligations of an Internet Service Provider ( ISP)

    * Encourage CPs to use available facilities:
         o where a CP provides Content that is subject to Relevant Law,
           to make reasonable endeavours to restrict access to appropriate
           persons; and

If my content is subject to legal restrictions in Singapore or Saudi Arabia, am I to make "reasonable endeavours" to ensure that access is restricted to appropriate persons in those jurisdictions? Or does it apply only to my own jurisdiction? Victoria and West Australia already have different laws covering Internet censorship, so this question is not the least bit rhetorical.

         o where an approved Content-Classification scheme and classification
           exists, to apply Content Labelling to their Content

I have not seen any content-classification scheme that I feel is consistent with academic traditions of free speech and which I would be prepared to apply to my Web pages. I believe there are good grounds for believing that no such scheme can exist.

Given this, and given that no content-classification schemes have yet been "approved" (by whom?), I do not feel that universities should be encouraging their content providers to apply content labelling.

 Obligations of an Internet Service User ( User)
    * Where a User encounters Content that they consider is in Breach of
      Relevant Law, communicate this to the relevant CP and/or ISP, as 

Does this require users to report content anywhere in the world in breach of the Code? Or does it just require Australian academics and students to monitor, police, and inform on one another?

In any case, this clearly obliges all users (not just Content Providers) to be able to evaluate material and decide whether it is in breach of the Code. This is a totally ridiculous burden to place on them. I have spent more time studying OFLC ratings criteria than most users, but I have no idea whether or not some of the material on my own web server would be "in Breach of Relevant Law", let alone everything I "encounter" elsewhere on the Net.

If I am ever forced to sign anything including such a provision, my response will be to report every web page I visit to the responsible content and service providers. After all, this clause is an obligation, not just a recommendation.

 Obligations of a Content Provider ( CP)
 The following obligations of a CP (including University staff and students
 who fulfil that role) are to be established by the T&C imposed by a CAUDIT
 Code of Practice-compliant ISP. These obligations are additional to those
 which a CP incurs by virtue of being a User:
    * Inform themselves about Content Labelling

What exactly does this mean? Are there going to be exams to test whether content providers have informed themselves about content labelling satisfactorily? Do they get taken to court if they fail? (This is listed as an obligation, so failure to learn anything about content labelling is presumably a "serious breach", possibly requiring legal action as suggested in the preamble.)

Last I checked, students weren't obliged to inform themselves about the material they were studying - they simply had to pass exams and fulfill other objective criteria. Similarly, lecturers aren't obliged to inform themselves about teaching - they are required to teach adequately. If you must put an obligation on Content-Providers in regard to labelling, why not make it an obligation to do something, instead of creating a new kind of thought crime?

    * Where a CP provides Content that may be seriously offensive to 
      some Users, display an appropriate warning prior to displaying 
      the Content
"May be seriously offensive to some users" is ridiculously broad. I can't think of any political or religious content which wouldn't be seriously offensive to someone, somewhere. A definition of "appropriate warning" would be nice, too.

[It is nice to see that the word "seriously" has been added here. That seems to be the only significant change since I last criticised this document.]

 In addition to the above obligations, it is recommended that CPs:

    * Where a CP provides Content that is subject to legal restrictions, take
      reasonable precautions to restrict access to appropriate persons
Exactly how is this supposed to be done? I mean, you wouldn't want to worry about feasibility...

Danny Yee.