On the 16th July 1999, the Broadcasting Services (Online Amendment) Act 1999 became law, although it did not receive much attention at the time. The legislation effectively gave power to the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) to regulate the Internet and classify content in much the same way as books and movies are classified. The way the ABA regulates the Internet is by preventing ISPs from hosting content that the ABA has determined to be Prohibited Content upon penalty of severe fines. This Prohibited Content refers to freely accessible content which the Film and Literature Classification Board has classified as R as well as any content which the Classification Board refused to classify or classified as X. In addition, the legislation empowers the ABA to investigate complaints or actively patrol the Internet and seek out content by itself.
Since only around 125 complaints have been received as of April 2000, this raises the question as to how many people are really concerned about Internet content. Judging by the relatively few complaints received, free speech advocates are concerned as to why the government needs to give the ABA the power to police the Internet in any case.
According to Peter Uptown, the Executive Director of Electronic Frontiers Australia, the real issue at stake is erosion of adults rights to access whatever information they want to in the privacy of their own homes. Since the laws only apply to content hosted in Australia, Uptown is also concerned that the laws could have a chilling effect on investment as content providers move their investments overseas, away from the prying eyes of the ABA. In terms of protecting people from undesirable material, Uptown maintains that the laws are essentially useless since prohibited content can be moved out of Australia with a simple redelegation of domain name and a click of the mouse. According to the ABA, this has already taken place, leaving the ABA powerless to do anything except notify censorware manufacturers to add the prohibited content site to the blacklists.
In addition, the legislation requires the Internet Industry, through its representative body, the Internet Industry Association (www.iia.net.au), to prepare a code of conduct to assist ISPs to comply with the new requirements. This code came into force on 1 January 2000.
The code obliges ISPs to deny Internet accounts to minors without parental consent, encourage commercial content providers to label their content, educate parents about content filtering, minimise SPAM and provide all Internet subscribers with censorware and/or filtered content.
As this stage, it is unclear exactly what an ISP must do to comply with its obligations to provide censorware. One part of the code states providing a link from the ISPs home page to appropriate resources will be sufficient whereas another part maintains that the ISP must provide the software or filtered service itself. Of the major ISPs, OzEmail provides a link for subscribers to download and pay for CyberPatrol, Telstra provides a pre-filtered Kidz Net service, Optus and Primus provide Net Nanny and Connect - as of April 2000 - does nothing.
The censorware debate
Exposing how these products work
What can you do if your site is blacklisted?
Future policies and directions