Melbourne IT Censors Political Satire at the Request of the Office of Australian Prime Minister John Howard
Surely, Melbourne IT, home to any number of phishing sites [P O Box 99800, EmeryVille, CA linked to is Melbourne IT's privacy protection address], and the company that allowed the Panix domain hijacking a while back, had to draw the line somewhere. And here's where they drew it: political satire. From the Sydney Morning Herald:
One of the many online newsletters and blogs I consume regularly is written by Richard Neville, a social commentator and, to people of my generation, one of the driving forces of the Australian counter-culture in the 1960s. . . . On March 8, Neville posted a spoof website on the internet, purporting to be a speech by John Howard apologising for Australia's involvement in the Iraq war. It was just the sort of speech Howard might have made if he had apologised and many believed it to be genuine.
That impression was exactly what was intended. That's how satire works. It was greatly heightened by the website (http://www.johnhowardpm.org) being a direct copy of the Prime Minister's website (http://www.pm.gov.au). Neville's spoof immediately received thousands of hits, helped along by his own email marketing and word of mouth.
Then, a day later, the site disappeared. . . . He tried to contacted Yahoo! which had sold him the web hosting package and the domain name for $9.71, but no one got back to him.
In that email, he asked six questions:
· Who ordered the closing of the site?
· On what grounds?
· By what authority?
· Through what mechanism?
· Why in secret?
· Will I get a refund from Yahoo!?
After a few days Neville found that the problem was not with Yahoo! but with Melbourne IT, the domain name registrar. . . . Melbourne IT shut down the site after it received calls from the Prime Minister's office and the Australian Federal Police, through its agency called the Australian High Tech Crime Centre. Melbourne IT's chief technology officer, Bruce Tonkin, says the registrar acted only because Neville's site looked like the Prime Minister's real site and infringed on intellectual property rights.
What, after all, will innocent children think if they were to see the Australian Prime Minister satirized in public! We must think of the children!
The domain name, johnhowardpm.org, is hosted by Melbourne IT. In less than 36 hours of its launch, following 10,500 visits to the site, the plug was pulled. By who? On what grounds? It took three days for Melb IT to make contact with me and help lift the veils of confusion. After receiving a phone call from Greg Williams of the People, Resources & Communications Division at the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet, Melb IT put the domain name on HOLD, where it remains. This domain cannot be transferred to another, more resilient host, for 60 days. In addition to the complaint from John Howard’s office, Melbourne IT said they had received calls from THREE Federal Police, and provided the name of an agent from the Australian High Tech Crime Centre. As far as I know, my passport has not met the same fate as my domain name.
See also Tim Longhurst.
[Advisory: as a Panix customer, I am unsure why Melboure IT remains in business.]