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Your internet policy sucks, US tells Aussies

America tuts as Oz tightens screws

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Critics of the Australia’s proposed internet filtering scheme just keep on coming. This week, it's the turn of one of Australia’s biggest and most formidable allies, the United States, to put the boot into a scheme that would turn Australia into the free world’s strictest regulator of internet content.

This follows objections raised last week by those well-known purveyors of internet smut, Google and Yahoo, and before that by Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF), a French campaigning group dedicated to defending the rights of the press and freedom of expression across the globe.

It remains unclear, however, who in the US administration said what to which bit of the Australian government, as neither side is prepared to say more than that they are in discussion over this topic.

Speaking to the Associated Press earlier this week, a US State Department spokesman, Michael Tran, said: "Our main message of course is that we remain committed to advancing the free flow of information which we view as vital to economic prosperity and preserving open societies globally."

He then added: "We don't discuss the details of specific diplomatic exchanges, but I can say that in the context of that ongoing relationship, we have raised our concerns on this matter with Australian officials."

So it is difficult to gauge exactly who the United States are talking to or what they are talking about.

No clarification whatsoever was provided from the Australian side of the exchange. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy declined to provide any further comment on the US concerns. However Suzie Brady, a spokeswoman for the Minister, said: "The Australian and US governments liaise regularly on a broad range of issues. It would be inappropriate to discuss the details of these consultations."

What is clear is that as well as stirring up controversy at home, the Australian government is starting to annoy some very powerful players across the globe. One serious concern, expressed by RSF, is that by adopting such a strict approach to censorship Australia will undermine the West’s case when arguing freedom of expression with more repressive regimes such as China and North Korea.

Australia is not yet in the same censorship league as those countries, but it was placed "under surveillance" in the latest RSF report on internet censorship, Internet Enemies.

We must now wait and see whether the Australian government will take account of the effect its policy is having on its friends and allies when the matter comes before parliament later this year. ®

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