State Dept. raised 'concerns' with Australia's proposed Web censorship

The State Department has reportedly approached the Australian government about its plans to begin filtering its citizens' access to objectionable Web content.

While a spokesman for the agency told a local reporter this weekend he could not comment on "the details of specific diplomatic exchanges" with Australian officials, he did note that the State Department has "raised our concerns" with the state's new Web restrictions. 


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The State Department declined further comment to The Hill on Monday, but did confirm discussions had taken place.

Ultimately, the discussions center around the Australian government's announcement last month that it would begin restricting access to webpages involving "child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act," according to one official.

Most seemed to agree such objectionable content requires some policing. But a handful of U.S. businesses, countless Internet-freedom groups and some Australian lawmakers have since stressed the government's new restrictions could pave the way for more aggressive and costly forms of online censorship.

But also among those concerned seems to be the State Department, which has made unfettered Web access one of its recent diplomatic priorities.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only a few months ago described Internet freedom in a landmark speech as an important tool for democracy. Some U.S. lawmakers have since adopted her rhetoric and proposed legislation that would penalize companies that do business in states that restrict some Web access.

However, Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who is leading his government's censorship charge, declined to comment on discussions with the State Department this week.

"The Australian and U.S. governments liaise regularly on a broad range of issues. It would be inappropriate to discuss the details of these consultations," spokeswoman Suzie Brady told The Associated Press.