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Can Geofencing Provide a Defense Against Contempt of Court Over an Australian Gag Order?



Photo of former Cardinal George Pell in February 2012 by Kerry Myers used with permission.

February 2, 2021—Can a global news organization be held liable for breaching a court order in Australia when their publications never set foot down under?

And is “geofencing” by digital news organizations – in which they block access to content based on geography – an effective defense against contempt of court?

Both questions – which centered on the news company’s coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s since-overturned conviction in a sexual abuse case in Australia — were part of a lively discussion at the American Bar Association conference on Tuesday.

The conversation focused on the geofences put up by publishers of information under a gag order in Australia.

This discussion was held on the heels of 12 Australian news networks admitting that they breached the order banning the identification of Cardinal Pell, even though none of them named him in news coverage. (They used headlines like, “Secret scandal. It’s Australia’s biggest story. A high-profile person found guilty of a terrible crime. The world is reading about it but we can’t tell you a word.”)

“We record it in the U.S., and then geofence Australia,” said Micah Ratner, assistant general counsel for National Public Radio. Even though NPR did not have a representative in the courtroom, they do maintain people on the ground in Australia, and there could have been contempt-of-court consequences for them if NPR had not geoblocked the region, said Ratner.

This compromise is not perfect, said Katharine Larson, chief general counsel for Reuters, referring to virtual private networks: “People can VPN around [a geofence]. No matter what you do, if you [print information] only in the physical form, people can photograph it, and then you’ve lost control.”

But Associated Press Assistant General Counsel Brian Barrett said that geofencing can still serve as an important gesture. “I think it can be a strong statement of intent–and a sense of, ‘look, we tried–here’s the steps we took to comply with your order.”

The discussion took place the day after charges were dropped against Australian journalists for breaching the ban.

Using Signal versus WhatsApp

Another focus of the workshop was the developing situation in Ethiopia, where journalists have been subjected to a pattern of intimidation and violence on behalf of the Ethiopian government.

This culminated in the detention of Reuters cameraman, Kumerra Gemechu, and the beating of Reuters photographer, Tiksa Negeri, by two Ethiopian police officers, late last year. Gemechu was released after being held for two weeks without charge.

Larson of Reuters advised those working with journalists abroad to make sure that if “you know who all your people are, [and] the next thing you want to know is all their devices.”

There should be a complete inventory of the laptops, phones, and any other devices that could potentially store sensitive information.

She also suggested that journalists opt for “burner” devices that could be disposed of or turned into the authorities easily. She also advised that reporters and other members of a multimedia crew regularly upload and delete unnecessary data.

Larson referred to engaging in these behaviors as “maintaining good digital hygiene.”

One of her final recommendations under this label was to switch from the centralized messaging system, WhatsApp, to a competitor, Signal. She made this recommendation after two Reuters reporters were arrested in Myanmar in 2017, and the contents of their WhatsApp conversation divulged.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Washington Jewish Week and The Center Square, among other publications. He he covered almost every beat at Broadband Breakfast.


Broadband News from Around the World: 4G in Lusaka, Australia’s National Broadband Network and Scotland Fiber Link



WASHINGTON, March 25, 2013 – A recent wrap-up of global broadband news included the following items:

Lusaka, Zambia

Zamtel, a Zambian Telecommunications company, has announced plans to increase mobile broadband Internet service and availability in the nation, according to the Lusaka Times. Zamtel Chief Eexecutive Officer Dr. Mupanga Mwanakatwe spoke of the company’s plans to increase internet availability in both rural and urban areas. Zamtels aims to see increased access to 2G and 3G connections. These second- and third-generation broadband connections are slower than the 4G customarily available in the developed world. Zamtel will also invest $4 million into the broadband infrastructure of Livingstone, in preparation for the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s general assembly to be held in late May. The Livingstone plan will allow for 4G connectivity at the UN event.

Australia’s National Broadband Network

Malcolm Turnbull, communications spokesman for of the opposition political party in Australia, warned that at its current pace of implementation, the government’s National Broadband Network could take 20 years to complete. Turnbull noted that when the government announced their National Broadband Plan, they promised to connect over 12 million homes by 2020. In 2012, the first year of the plan the government only connected 70,000 homes. Turnbull said of his own party’s upcoming broadband plan” will be released sooner rather than later, and there will be plenty of time – many months – before the election for people to consider it and debate it.”

Shetland, Scotland

Following damage to a subsea fiber cable, residents of Shetland, Scotland, were disconnected from broadband internet or cellular service for at least 48 hours. The local company Shetland Telecom noted that the damage to the cable and resulting unavailability is indicative of why more money must be invested into broadband infrastructure. According to the Shetland News, “Shetland Telecom manager Marvin Smith said that the situation demonstrated the value of the £1 million investment in a Shetland fibre optic cable that provides the first leg of the resilient link protecting local users.” Shetland Telecom is hoping to extend its local cable to Vidlin this year. It currently runs from Sandwick in the south to Sella Ness in the north of the isles.

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Broadband News from Around the World: Indian Cable, Kiwi Education and Mongolian Digital Divide



WASHINGTON, February 25, 2013 – A recent wrap-up of global broadband news included the following items:

Leading Indian Cable Operator Speaks to Expanding Telecommunications Climate

In preparation for the coming “TV Connect Asia” summit in Hong Kong, InCablenet, India’s leading cable provider, has recently spoken about their support of improving telecommunications in India. Ravi Mansukhani, managing director of InCablenet, said, “India is one of the fastest growing telecoms markets in the world. The government plans to make available affordable, reliable and secure telecommunication and broadband services across the entire country. The target is to have 175 million broadband connections by 2017 and 600 million by 2020.” India has yet to make the transition from analog to digital television. However, it recently adopted its own national broadband policy. The first phase of the analogue to digital conversion is set to be completed by the end of March. This conversion will immediately impact the major cities of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata.

New Zealand Government Attempts to Maximize Education Through Broadband

A recent opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald called on the local and federal governments to continue to support and improve broadband availability. Speaking with great attention to the education system, author Nikki Kaye discussed the Kiwi government’s plan to improve schools via broadband. Kaye states that “our government has invested significantly in ensuring New Zealand school children have access to the best, most innovative 21st century learning opportunities. This includes more than $200 million connecting schools to ultra-fast broadband. The plan is to ensure schools will be connected to fibre or an alternative technology by 2016. We are nearly halfway there with more than 1,200 schools connected.” Kaye went on explain the challenge in maximizing new technologies into the educational infrastructure. “Adopting the right approach to 21st century learning will require change across the education sector. It is important to recognize that much of this change is being driven by students themselves, who are thirsty to learn online through new applications, tools and content.”

Attempts Made to Bridge Mongolian Digital Divide

Mongolian internet provider Nomsys LLC has selected Ruckus Wireless Inc to provide Wi-Fi devices to increase broadband technology in the capitol city of Ulaanbaatar, according to “The large-scale Wi-Fi network, known as the Community Involved Nomad Wi-Fi project, is currently being deployed by Nomsys throughout Ulaanbaatar, bringing Wi-Fi service to consumers and businesses via hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the rural countryside where 70 percent of the city’s one million residents live.” This application is predicted to help Mongolia continue to embrace a mobile and digital structure as opposed to being tethered to wireline infrastructure. Due to the modest economic climate of even the most densely-populated areas of Mongolia, a move to increase Wi-Fi availability could allow users to interact with broadband technologies previously outside of their price range.

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Broadband News from Around the World: Microsoft for Africa & National Broadband Network in Australia



WASHINGTON, February 18, 2012 – A recent wrap-up of global broadband news included the following items:

Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative

Microsoft recently launched the Microsoft4Afrika Initiative, in a push to promote economic and broadband development in Africa. The initiative hopes to promote inexpensive smartphone usage on the African continent, and teach digital literacy to citizens. This initiative is a partnership with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications. According to a recent article on this initiative, dubbed “Mawingu”(cloud) will “deliver low-cost, high-speed, wireless broadband and create new opportunities for commerce, education, healthcare, and delivery of government services across Kenya.” While speaking to a crowd of journalists, the general manager of Microsoft Nigeria promised “We are ever committed to building African digital divide. It is our promise. Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative is a model for job creation. It is all about making Africa globally competitive. We want to create skills. We want to create innovation. We want to create access. Having smart devices in the hands of many youths in the continent is our major concern now. Young people are critical to this initiative.”

Broadband Comes to New South Wales, Australia

The city of Coffs Harbor recently celebrated becoming the first city to tap into Australia’s National Broadband Network. The capabilities of the broadband network, which will impact more than 2500 homes and businesses in Coffs Harbor,, was on full display as the network was turned on. In one of its first applications, students from a school were able to video-chat with members of the Sydney Opera House. While speaking to reporters, the Australian Minister for Broadband, Senator Stephen Conroy noted that, broadband is the future for Australia. “This will become the normal way that our kids will be educated,” Conroy said. “You don’t need to leave Coffs to get the best possible education opportunities, just like you won’t need to leave Coffs to get a decent aged care service or a decent health service into the future.

European Union Far Behind United States in Broadband Adoption, Says Broadband Gadfly

Scott Cleland of the Daily Caller recently wrote on “Why Europe is falling behind America on broadband.” According to Cleland, the European Union is falling behind America’s recent broadband progress due to the EU’s limitations on allowing private investment in technology, in contrast to the United States’ encouragement of what he calls “competition policy.” These limits on EU broadband infrastructure development are not scheduled to change anytime soon. According to Cleland, the EU recently cut their public infrastructure investments by 88 percent until 2020. Cleland sites an NTIA report that states that less than half of European households have broadband service, in comparison to nearly 70 percent in the United States.

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