Online freedoms appear to be under threat across the world — with the exception of Australia where a national Internet filter has been shelved.
The European Parliament has voted to approve a call for search engines to keep records of all online activity (in the same way as internet service providers), a move billed as being designed “to tackle online child pornography and sex offending”. The move doesn’t create a law but calls on the European Commission and Council of Ministers to force European countries to change national laws.
There does appear to be some confusion, however. The Italian politician behind the move (speaking to a Swedish website, so take Google’s translation with a double dose of skepticism) says the changes are designed to affect sites such a Facebook and YouTube rather than search engines.
Asked why he used the term “search engines” in the document, he replied (taken word for word from Google Translate) “I did it partly because I wanted that the matter would be addressed. But also because I write about search engine all know what this is about, you do not I write about content providers.” Minus the dodgy translation, it appears he is saying the document used the term “search engine” because it is better known. That doesn’t seem a very sensible approach to what could be the basis of legislation.
Meanwhile Thailand is cracking down on websites “deemed to be defamatory to the monarchy”, having so far closed 43,000 such sites. The government has warned that internet service providers must comply with official demands or lose their license.
And Pakistan is reportedly investigating whether Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg bears any criminal responsibility for the site’s pages featuring depictions of the prophet Muhammad which led it to being blocked in the country. While it’s highly unlikely to go that far, the investigation is said to be centered on the offense of blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty in the country.
So for those in the Northern hemisphere wanting to avoid both the upcoming shortening evenings and the threat of online restrictions, Australia might be the place to be. A government plan to block sites which appear on an unpublished blacklist now looks unlikely to make it into legislation in the immediate future. The governing party appears to have decided that it won’t risk bringing in new laws and raising a controversy that would still be fresh during national elections expected later this year.