e-crime proposals labelled ‘censorship’

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A civil liberties group has condemned plans by the Federal Government to introduce parliamentary amendments that would make it a criminal offence to use a telecommunications service to carry offensive Internet content.

According to a joint statement issued by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, and the Minister for Justice and Customs, existing provisions do not cover using telecommunications services to carry offensive online material.

But Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, described the proposed changes as 'an absurd announcement'.

'This is an attempt at censorship of free speech,' Murphy argued. 'People are entitled to put [across] an alternative point of view to the Government -- I don't think there's any evidence these sites are being used to promote violence or racial vilification...'

'All of those things can be dealt with under existing law -- this is just an attempt at censorship of political messages that disagree with the Government,' he said.

'People using the Internet to advocate or facilitate violent protests, for example, by spreading information on methods of violently disrupting international meetings and attacking police officers protecting such gatherings, including those using the Internet to harass and menace others are amongst those who could be prosecuted under the new offences,' the joint statement from the Ministers said.

The proposed offence -- which would carry a penalty of two years' imprisonment -- is part of a package of proposed new telecommunications offences. Others would include offences for possession and distribution of Internet child pornography and 'rebirthing' stolen mobile phones.

The NSW Council of Civil Liberties' Murphy sad that it would be writing to the Minister outlining its concerns. 'Things like this unfortunately are coming up more and more frequently under this government,' he said. 'In democracies, peaceful protests and a diversity of views are fundamental.'

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