US censorship plans at odds with Australia

By John Hilvert on May 18, 2011 10:56 AM
Filed under Strategy

Comment: US Cyberspace policy targets illegal activity rather than restricting access.

Australia's efforts to introduce mandatory internet filtering stand in stark contrast to a new set of cyber policies published by the country's largest ally, the United States.

The US Government has released an international strategy for Cyberspace, a 30-page document that argues for stronger defence of US online interests but also for “fundamental freedoms” of privacy and the free flow of information.

The policy document stresses that law enforcement should focus on combatting illegal activities, “not restricting access to the Internet”.

“Criminal behavior in cyberspace should be met with effective law enforcement, not policies that restrict legitimate access to or content on the Internet .”

The authors argued that the right approach to addressing online crimes is to focus on prevention and the arrest and punishment of offenders, "rather than by broadly limiting access to the Internet, as a broad limitation of access would affect innocent Internet users as well.”


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The policy also opposed "cultures of fear" that discourage others in the community from using new technologies to report, organise, and exchange ideas.


ISP's and other intermediaries would require protection, the paper said, to guarantee this freedom of expression.

"The same protections must apply to Internet Service Providers and other providers of connectivity, who too often fall victim to legal regimes of intermediary liability that pass the role of censoring legitimate speech down to companies."

In Australia, intermediaries such as search engines, web hosting companies and universities have pushed for inclusion under the 'safe harbour provisions' that offer this protection to telcos and ISPs.

The paper promises that the United States will be a "tireless advocate of fundamental freedoms of speech and association through cyberspace."

The nation will also will work to empower civil society actors (non-Government organisations), human rights advocates, and journalists in their use of digital media; and will work to encourage governments to address real cyberspace threats, "rather than impose upon companies responsibilities of inappropriately limiting either freedom of expression or the free flow of information."

More broadly, the policy sets out five policy priorities for the future of cyberspace covering the economy, internet security, military, internet governance and international development.

A chapter on the economy reinforces the US Government’s desire to protect intellectual property, including commercial trade secrets, from theft.  

“The United States will take measures to identify and respond to such actions to help build an international environment that recognizes such acts as unlawful and impermissible, and hold such actors accountable.”

A chapter on Global Internet Governance also cautions against Government “arbitrary restrictions” on the free flow of information.

In particular, it discourages Government-only forums for oversighting issues such as the domain name system. Instead it favours broad community and industry involvement in their operations under the heading  of “multi-stakeholder” discussions for Internet regulation.

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