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Censorship Your Rights Online Politics

South Australia Outlaws Anonymous Political Speech 352

Posted by Soulskill
from the best-of-luck-enforcing-that dept.
Sabriel writes "If you're online in South Australia and want to comment about the upcoming state election, be prepared to hand over your real name and postcode first — because this month it becomes illegal to do so anonymously (even under a pseudonym). Media organizations must keep your details on file for six months and face 'fines of $5000 if they do not hand over this information to the Electoral Commissioner.' This abomination was passed with the support of both major parties (Labour and Liberal), and to quote its sponsor, Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, 'There is no impinging on freedom of speech, people are free to say what they wish as themselves, not as somebody else.' Apparently incapable of targeting a few impostors without resorting to 'nuke it from orbit' legislative tactics, Atkinson has forgotten that protecting anonymity is important to the democratic process; hopefully both major parties will get a reminder come the polls on March 20."
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South Australia Outlaws Anonymous Political Speech

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  • Feh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @09:55AM (#30994420) Homepage

    No critisism. Less freedom than the "suggestion box" at my office. Lame.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:11AM (#30994608)

      I'm not an Australian, but as a fellow citizen of the Western world, I'm putting out a call to all Australians to do the right thing, and vote all of these fools out of power. Parties are irrelevant. Get some people in there who love democracy, who crave freedom, who protect privacy, and who promote free expression.

      Australians, please take charge. Be the leaders that the Western world so badly needs. Show us that democracy can work, especially in the face of those who strive so hard to crush it.

      Be to the Western world what Poland and Hungary were to the Eastern Bloc nations twenty years ago.

      • by deniable (76198) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:17AM (#30994684)
        I'm Australian, but NOT South Australian. They're ~7% of the Australian population, so all Australians can't do much, otherwise we'd have bounced Atkinson a while ago.
      • by MrNaz (730548) * on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:04AM (#30995348) Homepage

        This has the support of both major parties and here in .au we have a de facto two party system. This situation highlights the fact that when western powers go militarily gallivanting around the developing word with armies while brandishing words like "freedom" and "democracy", they're actually engaging in bald-faced lies, because they neither understand those words nor do they desire them.

        • Like many stupid laws, it will simply be ignored by the Australian populous.

          I'd like to say that this is a good thing as it highlights the incompetence in our representatives but the sad truth is we already know this and no one cares.
      • by jDeepbeep (913892) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:25AM (#30995662)

        I'm not an Australian, but as a fellow citizen of the Western world, I'm putting out a call to all Australians to do the right thing, and vote all of these fools out of power.

        By the time they could be voted out of power, the damage caused could keep the next batch busy for their whole term trying to undo it all (that is, IF the next batch was any better at all). The question to ask is how did they get in there in the first place? People voting them in? Very well then, we can expect more of the same next time then. If voting could change anything, it would be illegal too.

      • by Reziac (43301) * on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @04:43PM (#31000904) Homepage Journal

        Here's a question for you:

        If democracy works so well, why is it devolving into this same sort of scenario everywhere we look?

        If democracy works so well, why are we now in the position of having to vote the bastards out? how did they get voted in to start with??

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BikeHelmet (1437881)

      Isn't Atkinson the guy that believes videogames are satanic?

      He uses Rape Lay (a game not even available in Australia) to push his efforts to get videogames banned.

      Or something like that. I'm not an Aussie. :P

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @09:55AM (#30994424)

    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/victory-atkinson-loosens-gag/story-e6frea6u-1225826104175

  • oblig (Score:5, Insightful)

    by muckracer (1204794) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @09:59AM (#30994468)

    If anonymity is outlawed, only outlaws will have anonymity...

  • My views (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:00AM (#30994484)

    Both parties suck.

    Come find me bitches!

    • Re:My views (Score:5, Funny)

      by goldaryn (834427) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:24AM (#30994770) Homepage

      Both parties suck. Come find me bitches!

      What are you trying to do, bankrupt Slashdot?

      Some quick calculations. $5000 AUS is about, er, 50 quid or somthing, um, so, by my estimations Slashdot will go offline in approx... er..

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by y86 (111726)

        Both parties suck.

        Come find me bitches!

        What are you trying to do, bankrupt Slashdot?

        Some quick calculations. $5000 AUS is about, er, 50 quid or somthing, um, so, by my estimations Slashdot will go offline in approx... er..

        This is why having slashdot in the USA is superior to most other countries. People were complaining about EXPORT laws last week for sourceforge.... the USA is looking pretty good now.

    • Re:My views (Score:5, Funny)

      by imakemusic (1164993) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:31AM (#30994866)

      If I could find some bitches I'd keep them to myself.

  • by zill (1690130) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:00AM (#30994486)
    The Soviet constitution guaranteed freedom of speech.

    The American constitution guarantees freedom after speech.

    Obviously the Australia constitution guarantees nothing.
    • by ztransform (929641) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:28AM (#30994832)

      Obviously the Australia constitution guarantees nothing.

      Pretty much.

      Australian laws are largely created to criminalise anybody, anytime. You know the old joke, "I read my border entry form and didn't realise I had to be a criminal to qualify for entry to Australia!" - the reality is that everybody in Australia is a criminal, take your pick which laws you're breaking at any one time.

      If you think you haven't committed any crimes today you'll have a retrospective law applied to you in the future. Never fear, nobody gets away!

      • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:39AM (#30994986)
        When everyone is a criminal, crime is commonplace.

        Stop working and go steal stuff. What do you have to lose?

        N.B. This is not legal advice.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        You do know why everyone in Australia calls each other "mate", don't you?

        It's short for Inmate.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jythie (914043)
        Well, the same is true in the US. As a general rule, it is not possible to go about your day without breaking some laws, usually ones that are not enforced via a nod and a wink. Unless of course some DA wants to get you, in which case they magically start being valid laws. Everyone in the US lives under the constant threat of immediate arrest and crippling charges if someone really wants to.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Samah (729132)

        You know the old joke, "I read my border entry form and didn't realise I had to be a criminal to qualify for entry to Australia!" - the reality is that everybody in Australia is a criminal, take your pick which laws you're breaking at any one time.

        And yet the ironic thing is that South Australia is the only state not founded by convicts.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:00AM (#30994488) Homepage Journal

    I would have mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, there's Thomas Payne, who would have hanged had the British known who was posting those flyers. Anonymity is part of free speech.

    OTOH, if you hear something good about a candidate, it's good to know that it was an oil company executive or an RIAA goon who who is so enthusiastic about that particular politician.

    • by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot@@@uberm00...net> on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:04AM (#30994532) Homepage Journal

      I think the right to be anonymous is more important than knowing who said what. You just know that the politicians put this law in place so that they could harass or politically destroy those who would speak against them. It's a "strategic *law* against public participation".

      Censorship is the road to fascism.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ztransform (929641)

        I think the right to be anonymous is more important than knowing who said what. You just know that the politicians put this law in place so that they could harass or politically destroy those who would speak against them. It's a "strategic *law* against public participation".

        I've been thinking about this lately. Been watching too many dramas where a criminal wants to "face his accuser".

        Saying something that the established power base does not want to be heard has consequences. Revealing one's identity can result in injury or death. This is why so many criminals never face justice - what witness wants to have a gang destroy their lives? What individual wants to be targeted by a main political party with threat of police action or secret retribution?

        Anonymity is a fundamental

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DJRumpy (1345787)

          I know being a geek that I'm supposed to be all pro-electronic freedom and such, but I actually like some aspects of this. Certainly not all but some aspects in any case. I'm so tired of reading statements posted by anonymous people stating this person did this, and that person did that, and this one is the anti-christ, and that one is a pedophile, etc, etc, ad-nauseum. I suspect all of those 'bold' claims will disappear if people are forced to put their names behind their statements unless they have facts

          • by T Murphy (1054674) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @02:18PM (#30998802) Journal
            There is a trade-off in speaking anonymously. On one hand, people can't lash out at you for your criticism. On the other hand, with no name behind the statement, its credibility has to be taken with an extra grain of salt. Anonymous speech is good for exposing a problem so others who can speak openly can deal with it- others have to verify the anonymous claims before anything is taken too seriously.

            As you point out, it gets problematic when people forget the verify step.
    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      Usually, you need proof and some sort of evidence to provide negative feedback on a political party. What you bring speaks for itself, so you don't need your identity to be known for what you're saying to have an impact anyways.

      If you want to back someone up, feel free, but your backing won't have much power if it's made by someone entirely anonymous. If nobody knows X Oil Company supports candidate Y, then he doesn't have the backing of the large company, just that of Anonymous User Z (which isn't much).
    • by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:30AM (#30994852) Homepage Journal

      I don't care if its the ACLU, RIAA, Greenpeace, NRA, or George Clooney.

      People accept views in line with their own usually without regard to source. Far too many put any effort in determining if quotes are from the actual source let alone what some of the those groups with fancy names really represent.

      I want all the speech we can get, the day where we outlaw it because of some petty concerns, and yours are petty, is the day we start down the path of excluding groups by voluntary organization which in turn because those of involuntary association.

      Sorry, either all or nothing and all is the only choice. Look at any politician who comes out against a particular type of speech and you will find an incumbent fearful of losing his power over others.

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:40AM (#30995002)

      Yeah, but an oil company exec is smart enough and rich enough to conceal his identity. You're never going to see a political ad that says "Brought to you by the Exxon Corporation." Instead it will say "Brought to you by Concerned Citizens for a Reasonable Environmental Policy" (or something similar). Then, only if you dig into it, will you find out that the latter "citizens' organization" is funded by a bunch of oil companies. It's much more difficult for an individual with no resources to form a front organization.

      Laws like this one and the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision [wikipedia.org] may well deprive the individual citizen of what little voice they already have in politics.

  • Easy to forget (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:03AM (#30994518) Homepage
    Part of the problem here is that when one is in power it is easy to forget why anonymity is important. The main worry causing anonymous speech is threat of retaliation. When one is a powerful politician, one doesn't need to worry about that as much. Moreover, since every political act politicians do is public, they have trouble understanding more general motivations behind anonymous speech. Thus, this behavior is understandable although very bad. I'm also inclined to wonder if this will apply to bloggers and people who comment on blog threads.
  • by spywhere (824072) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:06AM (#30994554)
    The rest of the English-speaking world should start posting anonymous political comments in South Australian Web sites. Maybe 4Chan should get involved...
  • Enforceability (Score:4, Informative)

    by goldaryn (834427) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:07AM (#30994576) Homepage
    The commentary at the bottom of this article [adelaidenow.com.au] says it all I think

    John Quiggin, a long-time blogger and Research Fellow in Economics and Political Science at the University of Queensland, doubted whether the laws were enforceable. "They can pass as draconian law as they like, but without the capacity to impose their own internet censorship it's going to be a dead lemon," he said. "Anyone who wants to can set up an anonymous blog. "It will be totally ineffectual with someone who sets up a Wordpress blog post in the US under a false name and publish whatever they want."

    • Sure, but would anyone read such a site? The Internet has a pretty bad SNR when it comes to politics, and Wordpress and other blog sites are notorious for their spam problems which makes it all the worse.

      If you're saying something, then you want to be heard. If the politicians have forced anonymous speech down in to the same slums as spam, then even though it's not a fool-proof system they've still won in curtailing effective anonymous speech.

    • Re:Enforceability (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:28AM (#30994828)

      That implies they care about universal enforcement of the law. They don't really care if someone whines about a traffic fine anonymously on the blog. No, they'll go after "particular" offenders, or they'll use it to punish dissidents they particularly dislike after already having them so they have something that can stick. That's how modern democracy works, after all--enough laws and you'll be able to nail someone on something eventually.

    • Re:Enforceability (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:36AM (#30994936)

      You seem to be forgetting the Great Australian Firewall that the Aussies are working on implementing:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_Australia

      As soon as the government can shut down your Wordpress blog by blacklisting it, you'll either have to give up political speech entirely or opt for a non-anonymous blog.

  • Thomas Paine would not approve.

  • What the fuck (Score:5, Informative)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:11AM (#30994610) Homepage
    Ok, just finished reading TFA and in TFA they say that this law is set to expire right after the elections are over. That's such a blatant attempt to censor for specific electoral ends it isn't funny. If there were a genuine motivation here they'd have implemented it indefinitely. This doesn't seem that different than when some countries take over or close their media right before an election. Not cool.
  • Obviously they've been stung into action by those pesky Pommies' headlong rush into totalitarianism, and as usual are pulling out all the stops to get one over on their old rival...

  • Ironic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MikeRT (947531) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:16AM (#30994662) Homepage

    since this is the country that first made the secret ballot mainstream.

    I have a better idea for reforming Western politics: allow anonymous speech, but get rid of anonymous voting, especially on referenda.

    If you vote for a big expenditure on a local ballot like a new bond, I want the government to personally assess you a new tax so you can put your money where your mouth is if I decide to vote "no" on it.

    The fact of the matter is that secret ballots don't protect people from reprisal where it counts. If an employer wants to fire you for your views, they'll find out soon enough based on conversations at work. Employers scummy enough to scan through public voting records are also going to do the same for Facebook, etc. so there is no point in even wasting one's breath trying to preemptively stop them.

    • That one benefit to allowing the government to track how people vote on referenda and then hold them personally accountable would be that people would actually wake the hell out on how much government costs. The first time the working class and lower middle class get pounded back into the stone age financially for voting for expensive new programs would be the last time they'd automatically vote themselves largesse from the treasury!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by idontgno (624372)

      I don't talk politics at work. I get enough pointless argument at work just doing the daily job; I have no desire or need to chum for more.

      I don't use Facebook, MySpace, or any other online forum under my real name. Without packet capture, good luck tying me to those pseudonyms.

      I'm not sure I even visibly espouse any particular political flavor under those 'nyms, other than generally being in favor of personal liberty over governmental convenience. I guess that just means that since I don't self-identify a

  • system (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:17AM (#30994682) Homepage Journal

    hopefully both major parties will get a reminder come the polls on March 20.

    That's some heavy stuff you're smoking there, you sure it's legal?

    The political system of the west is built to let blunders of this kind disappear. Because you can not vote on issues, only on parties. And if party X has 90% of your opinion, you're going to vote for it rather than party Y which only has 60% of your opinions.

    Until something like that Pirate Parties "liquid democracy" becomes a reality, that's the way it is and the major parties can pretty much fuck you in the ass as long as they make sure you don't have any realistic alternatives to vote for instead.

    • The political system of the west is built to let blunders of this kind disappear. Because you can not vote on issues, only on parties.

      Not in the USA. We vote for individuals, not Parties. Which is why, for instance, La has one Democratic Senator and one Republican Senator, elected independently in two separate statewide votes.

      If we're of a conservative bend, and our local Dem is conservative, he'll be as likely to get the vote as the Republican (assuming that the Republican is conservative - not all of t

    • Because you can not vote on issues, only on parties.

      Imagine a parliament filled only with independents. Then having to form a true consensus about an issue with a real debate!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kjella (173770)

      In the US, you're fucked. In pretty much all European countries, large parties grow and shrink even though they rarely fall completely. For example, here in Norway in 2001 Ap acted like an ass and went from 35% to 24% in the election. In 2005 Høyre lost 7.1% and FrP gained 7.5%, shifting which was the biggest right wing party.

      It may not shift the overall balance, but US politics would be way different if they had to fear the "New democrats" or "New republicans" taking their seats, not just the antich

  • "Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority."

    Of course, Scalia and Thomas disagreed.

  • we need to tow australia up to the northern hemisphere, give it someone to talk to and play with. it's kind of getting cabin fever down there in the nothingness and kind of losing its mind. all it has to talk to is new zealand, and we all know what that's worth

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:29AM (#30994838)
    That government has been on quite the moral tear lately--banning videogames, arresting people for looking at naked Simpsons characters, etc. I always thought the U.S. was supposed to be the puritanical country in the English-speaking world, but lately it seems like the Australia and the UK are making America look open-minded and progressive by comparison.
  • Seems like it would be easy enough to get around this: set up a site for discussing for elections, and have it hosted outside South Australia. People can post as anonymously or pseudonymously as they like, and it's well outside the reach of the authorities. What an utterly useless law.
  • Law to be repealed (Score:2, Informative)

    by KenMcM (1293074)
    Attorney-General Michael Atkinson has just vowed to repeal this law [adelaidenow.com.au].
  • Next (Score:3, Insightful)

    by devnullkac (223246) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:36AM (#30994922) Homepage

    Next up: no more anonymous voting. As Attorney-General Michael Atkinson might say:

    There is no impinging on the freedom to vote, people are free to vote for whomever they wish as themselves, not as somebody else.

  • by Harin_Teb (1005123) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:37AM (#30994956)

    How is this different from laws we have in the US where we require people in public protests to be "unmasked"? Example: The KKK used to do their marches in the full hoods and robes. states started passing laws requiring their faces to be revealed during their marches in order to "shame them" into not doing it. Those laws were ruled constitutional because their right to speak is impinged in any way shape or form.

    I'm failing to see how this is different. A right to speak is not the same as a right to speak anonymously.

  • This law is problematic even beyond the restriction to anonymous speech. By setting specific record keeping requirements to make speech not be considered anonymous, they can label any kind of casual speech as anonymous. Then they can supress it.

  • I'm Australian, and I don't know who is running for the South Australian parliament. Ergo, they must be a bunch of useless bastards. Feel free to moderate me (+1, Rebel.)
  • by SQL Error (16383) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @12:00PM (#30996364)

    In South Australia I was born
    Heave away. Haul away!
    South Australia round Cape Horn
    We're banned in South Australia

    Haul away you rolling king
    Heave away! Haul away!
    But never will you hear me sing -
    We're banned in South Australia

  • by CherniyVolk (513591) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @01:57PM (#30998480)

    It saddens me to see Australia pass such legislation. An idea is an idea regardless of name and postal code, some of those ideas are true honest sentiments that might contradict public perception; and thus either open eyes, be repulsive but true, and outright offense yet true still. Some times, the best way to change the world, is to get your idea out there, and while some might wish to hold you accountable, the time they waste searching for you your concept is sinking in to the rest of the people. On the other hand, if they immediately catch you, they can bash you on the media effectively diverting the public from the issue you might have raised.

    Whistleblowers tend to come out in times like these. It's my philosophy that the truth only manifests in extreme situations. And no matter how much we might stomach the ignoble practices of one potential politician, the moment they stand to get elected into a seat of power is such an extreme that often compels an objector to speaking out. Sometimes these issues to be made known are offensive in nature, or of great concern... yet real enough warranting anonymity of the whistleblower not only from the accused but from public backlash.

    Anonymity veils a persons inhibitions and permits more honest dialogue. Sometimes we dislike what we hear from anonymity, and challenge the person such as 'Oh, hiding behind a computer screen, I'd kick your ass you say that to my face' is really just... 'I can't convince you of irrational beliefs so I'll threaten pain for you to object to them, and if you rescind or silence, then morons around me will applaud me as if I'm correct'.

    Requiring a name and postal code is attempting to achieve accountability, which is a detriment to free speech. With accountability comes liability, should your free speech anger the wrong person. With liability, there is no free speech. It should suffice alone, that the message be known to have originated within the jurisdiction of the topic. With the world being so small due to the Internet, perhaps originating IP address is to restricted for Australian political issues, perhaps an Australian is in Belgium when he rightfully voices his opinion. But, no politician might object to praise from any source, perhaps even from his enemy. International praise is coveted I assume, so if I compliment Vladimir Putin as an American, I think it's safe to assume he might accept the compliment, the International approval, the Global approval, even though I'm not a Russian constituent. If willing to accept praise, then be prepared to hear criticism as well; picking and choosing in this regard is simply foolish for every criticism simply provides the conditions for future praise.

    I think Australia would do well to undo this law.

  • by bug1 (96678) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @05:55PM (#31001730)

    SA Attorney-General Michael Atkinson has been the driving force behind moves to ban certain computer games from Australia for a long time. This dude is just bad news.

    There is an organisation called Gamers for Croydon, who are locked in a feud with him him and his policies.

    gamers4croydon, have a political candidate who will be standing against Atkinson for the seat of Croydon (in Adelaide) next election.

    If your interested in the politics of games, checkout their website at http://www.gamers4croydon.org/ [gamers4croydon.org]

    They have a steam group also ;)

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