How much independence should Facebook be given?

The following article by Curt Hopkins appears on popular American technology blog ReadWriteWeb:

The Australian Federal Police insist that Facebook hire a compliance officer and install a “rat button” on its site that will allow Australians to report anyone to the police with click.

The social media company and the AFP have been going back and forth over the responsibility Australian law enforcement believes the company has in regards to local law enforcement.

Last week, Facebook and the AFP, as well as other social media companies and other international law enforcement, spoke at a meeting arranged by the U.S. Justice Department. The meeting was called to address conflicts between U.S. companies and international law agencies.

Australian Federal Police High Tech Crime Centre assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan told Australia’s iTnews that he had requested that Facebook hire a compliance officer, someone to serve as an “international law enforcement presence…in Australia, a point of contact” with the police. They are also being asked to install a button on the Australian version of the site that will allow users to report people to the police.

I’m slow to leap to Facebook’s defense. But nobody should be shanghaied into this kind of nonsense. It’s like “Crocodile Stasi.” Private individuals and private companies are not available for deputation into law enforcement. They are required, in civilized society, merely to not break laws themselves.

Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist and author of The Blogging Revolution, says that police authorities have the right to enforce local laws to ensure illegal acts are not promoted or distributed online but there are limits.

“There is a growing and worrying trend across the Western world to monitor and censor material that supposedly offends decency or societal standards. We shouldn’t tolerate something like child pornography being shared across the world but censoring the so-called crime of ‘offending’ people or groups is not something a real democracy should encourage.”

Orwell may have been British but his nightmares must have wintered in Melbourne. It is especially creepy since, among the major industrial powers, Australia has arguably the worst reputation when it comes to civil rights vs. security.