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section heading icon     overview

This guide explores censorship, regulation of offensive material and free speech in the digital environment.

It is complemented by a separate guide on Secrecy, including discussion of official secrets legislation, commercial confidentiality regimes, freedom of information, archives and whistleblowing.

subsection heading icon     contents of this guide

This guide covers -

  • information flows - a discussion of blasphemy, pornography, official secrets and other issues
  • online erotica - how much offensive material is online, is it growing, can it be managed?
  • global frameworks - international agreements and national responsibilities in the age of the global information infrastructure
  • Australian legislation - Commonwealth and state/territory legislation, codes of practice, enforcement measures such as hotlines, and major government/industry initiatives
  • elsewhere - overseas national and international legal frameworks for online censorship
  • agencies - a map of the Australian and overseas government agencies
  • advocacy - making sense of business and community groups
  • texts - selections from the online and offline literature about censorship in cyberspace
  • freedoms - free speech online and related policy challenges in national and international information infrastructures
  • filters, walls and tunnels - mechanisms for controlling reception rather than distribution of content (with an evaluation of filters, age-verification schemes and other content management tools) and for evading national firewalls
  • postal - interdiction of letters and other postal items
  • journalism - censorship of news, in particular newspapers and journals
  • books - censorship of books offers a perspective on the regulation of online content
  • comics - censorship of comics and anime
  • art - censorship of painting, sculpture and other visual arts
  • photos - censorship of photography
  • performance - censorship of theatre and music
  • film - censorship of film and video
  • electronic games - censorship of video, console and networked games
  • radio - censorship of radio
  • television - censorship of radio
  • education - censorship in universities, secondary and junior schools
  • street life - 'speech in the street', demonstrations, graffiti and 'blue laws' about Sunday trading
  • advertising - restrictions on advertising as a form of censorship
  • unplugged - taking nations offline
  • workplace - censorship and free speech in the workplace
  • prisons - censorship in custodial institutions
  • landmarks - some censorship and free speech landmarks

This site also features a detailed profile examining the shape of censorship in Australia and New Zealand from the 1780s onwards, providing a point of reference for understanding online content regulatory mechanisms, issues and advocacy groups.

Questions of jurisdiction, privacy and other issues are explored in the guides on Governance and Privacy.

subsection heading icon     our position

Our position? Managing access to content is problematical - in principle and practice - whether offline or online. The stridency of advocates for particular positions doesn't assist consideration of one of the most contentious issues in the regulation of cyberspace. 

We urge caution in considering some of the easy answers recurrently peddled by advocates on the left and right. John Gilmore's glib dictum that "the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it" ignores substantial issues. It may have been valid when the net was the realm of right thinking wizards. As Jack Goldsmith & Tim Wu note in Who Controls The Internet? - Illusions Of A Borderless World (New York: Oxford Uni Press 2006) it is particularly unconvincing now the web has become a mass communication infrastructure.

Irrespective of criticisms by info-libertarians, the net is subject to regulation. Our expectation is that at the global, national and local levels such regulation will become more comprehensive and more nuanced.

It also clear that many of the technological quick fixes don't work.  Some of the legislative approaches in Australia and overseas (such as the national filter proposals in Australia) are ill-conceived and oversold. That is important because those approaches cramp the growth of the information economy, expose the unwary to abuse and bring law into disrepute.



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version of January 2010
© Bruce Arnold
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