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In Australia, protesting against Brendan Eich will be a CRIME

Freedom of speech isn't for activists

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Come to Australia, Brendan Eich: our freedom-of-speech government wants to protect you against the pesky business of community outrage.

The outcry that led to Eich's resignation today as CEO of Mozilla over his past support for an anti-gay-marriage bill in California is something that's exercising the mind of the Australian government.

Pretty much at the same time as OKCupid instituted its “boycott” of Firefox users, in which it presented those users with a gateway poster asking them to consider a different browser before proceeding to their site, senior Australian government figures were calling for such actions to be considered “secondary boycotts” and banned.

Since the Internet is where an awful lot of organised grassroots boycott activity arises now, Vulture South thinks this is worth exploring – especially since in the finest traditions of the right hand being at odds with the left, we're looking at a government currently conducting a parliamentary inquiry into the protection of “traditional rights, freedoms and privileges”.

Step forward, Richard Colbeck, Australia's federal parliamentary secretary for agriculture, who wants environmental and consumer boycott campaigns banned under laws covering “secondary boycotts”.

Colbeck is particularly irked by activists' calls for boycotts against products made from old-growth native Tasmanian forests, saying that groups like GetUp! “should not be able to run a specific business-focussed or market-focussed campaign, and they should not be able to say things that are not true.”

He wants computer campaigns to be policed by Australia's consumer affairs regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Whether the outcome was good or bad, the Mozilla debate was not about Brendan Eich's indisputable right to hold personal opinions. It was about whether his actions were consistent with the Mozilla community's values – and whether the community had a right to tell Mozilla what it thought.

In the Australia that Richard Colbeck (and, if his claims are to be believed, others in the government) want, OKCupid would have to justify its actions to the ACCC.

And, given the direction of inquiries into other rights and freedoms – the right to speak freely without being snooped upon – all those Twitter users that spoke up for (and against) Brendan Eich would now be metadata in their ISPs' data centres, waiting for the spooks to decide whether their political speech constituted a threat worthy of investigation - or, perhaps, legal action.

Thus we are governed. ®

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