Tuesday, February 02, 2010

South Australia bans anonymous election comments online

I've been alerted by CloCkWeRX in a comment in my post, Australian Labor Party launches social media website, that the South Australian government has passed a law banning anonymous online comments about the South Australian election.

According to the article South Australian Government gags internet debate in News.com.au,
The new law, which came into force on January 6, requires anyone making an online comment about next month's state election to publish their real name and postcode.
Intended to force media outlets to police the publication of online comments in their sites in order to prevent anonymous comments or comments involving fake names, this revision to the South Australian Electoral Act potentially could be interpreted broadly across any websites hosting public comments.

This could mean the provision would apply across blogs, forums, social networks, Twitter and other online services that support public comments.

If this is the case, and the ACT is enforced across South Australian hosted sites containing public comments, this may encourage organisations to move their website hosting away from South Australia to other Australian states or overseas. It is also unclear whether or how the South Australian government would enforce the Act across other jurisdictions hosting social media websites containing public comments about the South Australian election.

It is also unclear how the law applies to online opinions posted by those aged under 18 years old, who might still have an interest or school assignment involving state politics. There could be privacy issues in having a state government government force minors to publicly publish their real full name and postcode when commenting on electoral issues during election periods.

Privacy and security issues may also apply for people in witness protection programs, who would avoid using their real name and postcode on online comments to avoid detection by criminals.

Whilst not a lawyer, it appears to me that this amendment will be very difficult to enforce - a view shared by the South Australian Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, who is responsible for overseeing state laws.

Mr Atkinson is known for his opposition to a national 'R' rating for computer games, despite the average age of Australian gamers being over 30 and 'R' rated movies being legal in Australia. He was also involved in a recent South Australian law which prohibits the display of promotional material for 'R' rated movies in areas children may enter. My understanding is that this ban is despite whether the promotional material itself portrays 'R' rated images.

Quoting the AdelaideNow article, Outrage as Rann Government, Opposition unite to gag internet election debate,
In a press conference today, Mr Atkinson said the law was "all about honesty''.

He conceded it would be difficult to police but the most "egregious and outrageous'' breaches of the new laws would be identified.
As none of the news articles actually quote the relevant section of the South Australian Electoral Act, you can find it at the Electoral Act page in the South Australian Legislation. Refer to Section 116.

 I apologise for not published the relevant section of the Act here in my blog, I am currently unclear on whether this would be considered a breach of copyright.


  1. It seems wrong that you cannot reproduce excerpts from the very laws we are meant to abide. In NSW the government "does not enforce copyright it has in legislative material on this website but only if the material is published or otherwise dealt with in accordance with the notice Copyright in legislation and other material." Essentially that you do not misrepresent the law. http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/copyright.html

  2. I agree.

    However in Australia most government material is locked up in copyright.

    Note that while NSW may choose not to enforce copyright, it can change this stance at any time.

    In South Australia, the Attorney-General has likewise indicated that he will not enforce the Electoral Act amendment during the election campaign. This is an interesting stance for the state's chief law enforcer to take - in effect advocating that people break a state law.