Australia on 'internet enemies' watch list

  • Australia under surveillance as potential 'internet enemy'
  • Reporters Without Borders criticises internet filter
  • Democracies must be careful not to present a "bad example"

Australia is one of fourteen countries "under surveillance" from Reporters Without Borders as a potential enemy of the internet.

Enemies of the Internet Many Eyes The organisation attempts to monitor and declare those who are "enemies of the internet". They highlight the fact that "the Internet and social networks have been conclusively established as tools for protest, campaigning and circulating information, and as vehicles for freedom". Reporters Without Borders points out the importance of online activism in the climax of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Their list of "enemies of the internet" now includes twelve countries who restrict internet access, filter and block content, and imprison bloggers.

Australia's place on the list

The watch list is made up of countries who are currently behaving in a way that merits surveillance. Australia is joined on the list by India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Egypt and France, among others.

Australia has been included on the list because of the government's attempt to introduce a mandatory national internet filtering system and its success in persuading Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to create a voluntary system. Reporters Without Borders also highlighted the importance of watching the conclusion of an inquiry that has been made into the media around the creation of a News Media Council which "could turn out to be dangerous for freedom of information in the blogosphere."

Reporters Without Borders have expressed particular concern over the lack of transparency involved in the process.

The good and the bad

Added to the list of "enemies of the internet" were Bahrain and Belarus, condemned for their "often drastic content filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and online propaganda".

In more cheerful news, Libya was declared no longer an enemy. Reporters Without Borders pointed out that while "many challenges remain... the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime has ended an era of censorship". Venezuela was also taken off the watch list, as Reporters Without Borders concluded that "access to the Internet continues to be unrestricted", though they will "nonetheless remain vigilant as relations between the government and critical media are tense."

Reporters Without Borders reacted to surprise at the inclusion of democratic countries on the surveillance list by pointing out that they were setting a bad example "by yielding to the temptation to put security above other concerns and by adopting disproportionate measures to protect copyright."

The press release continued: "Technical service providers are under increasing pressure to act as Internet cops... Hactivists are providing technical expertise to netizens trapped by repressive regimes. Diplomats are getting involved. More than ever before, online freedom of expression is now a major foreign and domestic policy issue."

Communications minister Stephen Conroy is yet to react to Australia's inclusion on the list. The internet censorship bill has just undergone a rigorous Refused Classification report, but Conroy is yet to comment on the future of the bill.