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Google Rejects Australian Censorship

The company's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible has put it on a collision course with censors around the globe.

Just as Google's YouTube rolled out a Safe Mode setting to help users block objectionable content, Google Australia took a stand against censorship.

The company has rejected a call by Australian communications minister Stephen Conroy to voluntarily censor videos on YouTube that fit in the government's "refused classification" category for media, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Australia's Classification Board and the Classification Review Board, which respectively classify films, videos, and publications and review those classifications, can in effect censor content in Australia by refusing to classify it. This prevents it from being sold or exhibited in the country.

The Australian government in May 2008 committed $125.8 million over four years to implement a cyber-safety plan that includes such measures as developing and implementing a ISP filtering mechanism. The government within weeks is expected to require ISPs to block Web sites hosting "refused classification" content. It wants YouTube to conduct similar filtering.

A Google spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald that the "refused classification" designation is too broad because it limits access to "material instructing in any crime from [painting] graffiti to politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia, and exposing these topics to public debate is vital for democracy."

In an interview on Australian TV, Conroy reportedly said that Google is simply being asked to follow Australian law.

Google says that it does abide by the law. "YouTube is a platform for free expression," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mail. "We have clear policies about what is allowed and not allowed on the site. For example, we do not permit hate speech or sexually explicit material, and all videos uploaded must comply with our Community Guidelines. Like all law-abiding companies, YouTube complies with the laws in the countries in which we operate. When we receive a valid legal request like a court order to remove content alleged to violate local laws, we first check that the request meets both the letter and spirit of the law, and we will seek to narrow it if the request is overly broad."

In other words, Google won't proactively remove content, but will do so when presented with a valid and sufficiently narrow legal demand.

Google and other Internet companies have in the past defended cooperation with government censors by saying that they need to obey the law in the countries where they do business.

But in January, following the discovery of a sustained cyber infiltration campaign on its network, Google took the unusual step of saying that it would no longer comply with Chinese censorship requirements. The company remains in negotiations with Chinese authorities and could be forced to withdraw from China if no accommodation can be reached.

Meanwhile in Iran, the government of that country reportedly has blocked access to Google's Gmail service and plans to mandate the use of a state-run e-mail service.

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