1984 was the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac, which I’m sure you didn’t know. Why would you? George Orwell made the number famous by putting it in the title of his classic novel about suppression and control over humanity and liberty, over freedom and fairness, for the sake of a world regulated by the powers that be – to a surreal and very harmful extent.
Also known as, “dystopia.”
But did you know that 2020 is also the Year of the Rat in that same zodiac? (“The Year of the Bat” is a bad pun, so — don’t even go there).
But to be sure – 2020 has not been working out great for most people by this point in time. Lives, jobs, and liberty are all in flux with comprehensive global economic chaos and no visible end in sight.
Not to mention the way it has emboldened online censors to flex their muscles all over the internet, across different national (sovereign?) legislations.
Whether or not this overall climate of censorship is something that has – and in what way – affected New Zealand’s authorities to push for more control over online content is up to observers to decide.
But here’s the facts, as presented to us by local reports.
Now, select Government agencies – including the police – will be able to “issue a takedown notice relating to a particular online publication to an online content host if “the content is objectionable or if the person “believes, on reasonable grounds, that the online publication is objectionable”.For the purposes of this measure, “online content hosts” refers to companies “both in New Zealand and overseas that provide services to the public”.
Companies issued a takedown notice must remove the content “as soon as is reasonably practicable”, although they may be asked to securely and privately retain a copy for later investigation.
Non-compliant hosts can be taken to court and made to pay a fine of up to $200,000.
It’s “terrorism and violent extremism” that the New Zealand government says it is targeting with a new bill that would let it “issue takedown notices and create internet filters.”
That’s a lot to unpack, and also, a lot of potential for future censorship. Imagine being able to remove content, and then also decide what can even be uploaded in the first place, by controlling the “filter” segment.
The idea to go ahead with this invasive online censorship legislation stemmed from New Zealand’s untreated post-traumatic stress disorder after the March 2019 mass shooting in Christchurch – and it was, apparently, actually slowed down by the coronavirus saga.
But now, the political/legal push marches on once again. Also “the legislation makes it an offense to livestream objectionable content. This measure appears to address concern that such actions were not already illegal under the FVPCA, a notion some legal experts have objected to. The new offense would be punishable by up to 14 years in prison if carried out by an individual or a $200,000 fine for corporations.”
And you know what the official job title of the New Zealand public servant who is vested with powers to deal with these issues is?
It’s “Chief Censor.”