116—Published material to identify person responsible for political content
(1) A person must not, during an election period, publish material consisting of, or containing a commentary on, any candidate or political party, or the issues being submitted to electors, in written form, in a journal published in electronic form on the Internet or by radio or television or broadcast on the Internet, unless the material or the programme in which the material is presented contains a statement of the name and address (not being a post office box) of a person who takes responsibility for the publication of the material.
On the face of it, this doesn't seem like such a bad thing. You have always had to supply name and address to have a letter to the editor printed. But this would apply the same rules to passing comment online as apply to political advertising with all those writtenspokenandauthorisedby statements. And while none of us have to look very far to find libelous or abusive comments from some gutless wonder acting safe in the knowledge that no-one can jump through his screen and punch him in the mouth, often the veil of anonymity is necessary for fearless comment. There is a reason I don't publish my full name or exact location on this site. I don't want to be found by creeps. And I'm not saying my readers are creeps, but come on, you've seen what the internet is like. There are a lot of freaks out there. Why should they have my address if I don't have theirs? It's not that I don't have the courage of my convictions, it's just that I'm not stupid.
As such, the law is a form of censorship by forcing people to reveal their personal details just to have the right of comment. The expression, "We know where you live," is most commonly used as a threat.
Naturally, newspapers and all commercial websites are going to have to comply but I don't know how they're going to enforce it when it comes to Facebook, Twitter and 'blogs without mechanisms that would make the Chinese government salivate. I'm not sure the SA government has the resources to do it and even if it did, if that would really be the most appropriate use for them.
I think this calls for some civil disobedience. Feel free to post comments here on the South Australian state election, with or without your real name and address. Do keep it decent - not because I'm telling you what to say but because otherwise, you'll just look like a dick and cheapen your argument. Other than that, go for it! Extra points will be awarded to anyone who can come up with the best joke about throwing the book at Mike Rann.
The SA government has backed down.
However, this is not the end of the matter, as SA Attorney General Michael Atkinson would no doubt like it to be. Although he says he will move to repeal the act, this cannot be done until after the election. Therefore, such a repeal assumes a Labor win. He is acting on the advice of his opposition counterpart Vickie Chapman, but we don't yet know if the Liberals are making the same pledge. The legislation was passed with opposition support so both parties are tainted by it.
Furthermore, he can't credibly say that the laws will not be enforced during the campaign. For a start, they would be impossible to adequately enforce anyway. Secondly, after an election writ is issued, the government officially enters caretaker mode which means they can only do as much as is needed to keep the state functioning. They cannot enact policy. Beyond that, the idea that the government can pick and choose which laws are enforced and which are not, is perhaps even more disturbing than the initial legislation.