Electoral comment laws to enter online world

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be exempt from proposed legislation governing the authorisation of online political advertisements, under a Bill introduced to parliament last week.Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration, Dr Sharman Stone, on Thursday introduced the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill 2005 to the House of Representatives.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be exempt from proposed legislation governing the authorisation of online political advertisements, under a Bill introduced to parliament last week.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration, Dr Sharman Stone, on Thursday introduced the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill 2005 to the House of Representatives.

The Bill proposes that Internet sites be subject to the same authorisation requirements as print media for political advertisements.

There will be no legal burden for ISPs however, thanks to a special provision to absolve them of responsibility.

The Bill states there must be "intent" by a person publishing a political ad to affect voting in an election.

"This prevents Internet Service Providers that are unaware of the content of Web pages hosted on their mainframes from being captured by this provision," according to an explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed legislation.

ISPs have attracted plenty of legal attention in recent times as to whether they are responsible for users' actions, most notably in copyright cases. The ISP industry has argued its members are unable to monitor all the content they host.

The right to electoral comment online will remain, according to the Bill, which claims to preserve existing rights to political commentary as distinct from promotional material.

To help differentiate the two types of material, the Bill proposes that the ad must have been paid for.

Only people in Australia will be able to authorise online electoral ads, according to the proposed Bill.

The Bill is expected to be debated in parliament in February, a spokesperson for Special Minister of State, Senator Eric Abetz, told ZDNet Australia.

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