New Zealand bill will expand internet censorship

Legislation introduced to New Zealand’s parliament will vastly expand the power of state agencies to censor and remove online content deemed “objectionable”.

The culmination of pushes since the Christchurch event, the move will enable the ‘Chief Censor’ to issue takedown notices and create internet filters, concerning privacy advocates.

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Ardern’s reign continues. Photo: SWL

CENSORING THE INTERNET

New Zealand has been in the censorship business for years. However, the government appears to believe it’s still not doing enough censoring and has introduced a new bill to parliament.

The Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Urgent Interim Classification of Publications and Prevention of Online Harm) Amendment Bill  stems from reaction to the questionable Christchurch shooting, and seeks to expand abilities to block content it deems to be ‘objectionable.’

The New Zealand legislation would empower the country’s Chief Censor “to make swift time-limited interim classification assessments of any publication,” including anything posted on social media.

An ‘Inspector of Publications’ will be able to issue “take-down notices,” requiring online platforms such as Facebook or Google to remove “objectionable” links or be fined up to $200,000.

Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin said the bill would help to fulfil the government’s commitments under the Christchurch Call to Action, launched last year by the New Zealand and French governments “to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online”.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has campaigned internationally for tougher censorship, speaking at the United Nations last year in support of combating the online promotion of ‘terrorist violence’ and “language intended to incite fear” against ethnic and religious groups.

The call has been signed by more than 50 countries including India, Japan, Britain, Canada, Germany and Indonesia. Australia has also signed the bill.

New Zealand’s two biggest internet service providers, Spark and Vodafone, told reporters they support such a filter, along with the other measures in the legislation.

To enforce the new law, the Ardern government will give an extra $17 million to the Chief Censor and the Censorship Compliance Unit, doubling their funding and allowing the unit to expand staff.

Content classified as ‘objectionable’ can then be immediately blocked or censored by the group.

What constitutes ‘extremist’ or ‘terrorist’ content, however, is determined by the state. 

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Free speech advocates and civil liberty campaigners worry the new censorship laws will be ineffective and will give bureaucrats powers which could easily be abused.

Internet protection lobby group InternetNZ have recently criticised the proposal. According to Chief Executive, Jordan Carter, the bill: 

“…leaves a whole heap of discretion for the secretary of internal affairs about how [the filter] would work, who it would apply to, and whether it would be compulsory or not, and we don’t think that putting a really broad power like that in this legislation is a good idea.”

While the Christchurch Call is not officially backed by the other international government, such as the United States, it was signed by Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft — giant corporations that work closely with governments on surveillance.

Further criticism of the bill has come from the New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties, where Thomas Beagle raised concerns about the efficacy of the proposed legislation:

“I look at what’s happening in New Zealand, and I don’t think access to objectionable material is a big problem at the moment. 

All governments are interested in suppressing stuff which is sensitive to them. It might be something like protests, like police violence.”

The Christchurch event didn’t happen for any ‘random’ reason. It subsequently created an open-ended definition for governments to further implement measures of internet control.

The New Zealand government wants ISPs and platforms to do more policing of content it doesn’t like, but even with heightened emphasis on this goal, legislators still seem hazy on the implementation.

This has caused confusion in the New Zealand civil liberty community, however, readers of this website all know why there is vagueness surrounding the details — it is designed to be this way.

Authorities want as little opposition as possible as they begin to bring the hammer down on internet freedoms. New Zealand and Australia are both heading down a slippery slope. 

MAKING THEIR MOVE

The moves witnessed in New Zealand are on the backdrop of some very worrying processes: armed police trials, facial recognition, police allowed to undertake raids without warrants and more.

Similarly, in Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will establish a new taskforce to counter “online disinformation campaigns”, in a bid to clamp down on social media activities.

This country has also already passed laws allowing internet services providers to block domains that promote “harmful and extreme” content, as well as controversial anti-encryption legislation that compels companies to grant access to encrypted information.

Last year, we saw the final report of the Digital Platforms Inquiry handed down to government, where the ACCC detailed measures needed to take to ‘protect’ content online. 

Indeed, we are witnessing the systematic targeting of free thinkers who spread anti-establishment material online, backed by the erosion of safeguards to provide protection for those individuals.

Such measures, regardless of reasons for ‘security’, represent a gross violation of free expression. The broad legislative basis for filtering, that is now becoming compulsory, isn’t the right way to go. We know it and they know it. These measures aren’t designed to solve ‘harmful content’ online.

We support a free, open and secure internet. Introducing broad powers that allow for the statutory filtering of the internet, both in New Zealand and Australia, isn’t consistent with that idea. 

Citizens should not be fooled by worthless assurances that governments and corporate giants will protect freedom of expression. What constitutes ‘terrorist’ or ‘extremist’ material will be decided by the state agencies, and given they are the only real terrorist in this world, the truth will be sealed.

Both countries must become aware of these developments and take the necessary precautions to avoid the future Western ;great firewall;. VPNs, backing up files, leaving social conglomerates.

These are all a good start to protect yourself and remain at the forefront of information.

The internet is the final frontier of freedom the world has left. Fight for it.


RELATED CONTENT

New bill comes with online takedown powers | Newsroom NZ

Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Urgent Interim Classification of Publications and Prevention of Online Harm) Amendment Bill | New Zealand Parliament

The Detail: Concern over New Zealand’s new internet censorship laws | Stuff.co.nz

Discussion: Inconsistencies in Christchurch | TOTT News

Telcos given powers to block websites | TOTT News



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6 comments on “New Zealand bill will expand internet censorship”

  1. Have tried to subscribe, but when I click on the ‘Confirm Follow’ button in your email, nothing happens. Had this same problem a few times when I wanted notification of new comments from your blog – and in recent months the same has happened when I’ve tried to confirm my signature on various petitions from other sites. Wondering if it’s just some sort of glitch, or if somehow I’m being blocked by the ‘overseers’ of what is constituted as truth by TPT(shouldn’t)B. Any ideas? Are you able to subscribe me without my clicking on the ‘Confirm’ button?

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  2. Terrorism seems to have evolved in so many ways over the years. Thoughtcrime now = terrorism. Im expecting a total obliteration of child trafficking sites now with all that resource….or is that not terrorism?

  3. What damn hill do you choose to fight on … there is so many fronts that the onslaught of “big brother” is fighting on at this time, The difficulty of the push back is there is no cohesive push from interested parties to be a show of solidarity and signaling of effective leadership.for alternative narratives to the agenda the system establishment wants in place.

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