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SA Govt backdown on new Internet law

03 February, 2010
By Allison Orr

South Australia’s Attorney General, Michael Atkinson, has announced that he will repeal a law that would have required any person posting a comment online during an election period to publish their real name and postcode.

The law was a move to make the rules online the same as existing laws offline; currently, a newspaper is required to verify personal details before publishing letters during an election period.  The law would have applied only to newspapers and their extensions, and was supported by all MPs and parties in the SA Parliament.

However, the announcement of the new law generated vehement opposition among online bloggers and commentators, with the AdelaideNow website posting well over 1,000 comments soon after the announcement.  Some of those commenting described the law as a form of censorship and compared the "draconian" law to those of China, Nazi Germany, North Korea, and George Orwell’s 1984.

Graham Young, Chief Editor and Founder of Australian eJournal On Line Opinion, described the reaction to the legislation as hysterical. "It has long been a requirement in most, if not all, Australian states and territories that election comment during an election is attributed. This is not censorship, but accountability. In practice the requirement means that if a complainant thinks there may have been a breach of the electoral act, then they have a contact they can approach."

Mr Atkinson has described the backdown as "humiliating", but went on to say that, "The blogging generation believes that the law … is unduly restrictive.  I have listened".

South Australian Premier Mike Rann sent his opinion on the matter via Twitter, describing the Internet as a "parliament of ideas" and saying : "AG has listened. So no debate will be stifled. No political censorship of blogs or online comments whether named or anon".

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