Aussie ISPs held responsible for content

The Australian government last Friday announced a "regime" that will hold local Internet service providers responsible for removing content from Australian Web sites deemed illegal, X-rated or highly offensive.

Not only that, the regime will require local ISPs to block access to undesirable non-Australian sites -- a move that puts Australia in step with the online censorship practices of China and Singapore.

Australia's Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Sen. Richard Alston, said in a statement that the government was working on legislation that would "establish a regime to regulate the carriage of content over the Internet." Under that regime, Alston said, consumer complaints about Internet content would first be made to a government agency, the Australian Broadcasting Authority. The ABA would then issue an interim notice to the ISP hosting that offensive material, ordering that it "prevent publication of, or access to, that content," he said. If ISPs refuse to remove offensive material, they could be fined.

"Primary responsibility for such material should lie with the creator of the material," Alston said. "But online service providers do have a responsibility to remove highly offensive or illegal material from their services once they have been notified of the existence of the material."

In a statement issued Friday, the Electronic Frontiers Australia, an anti-censorship group, attacked Alston's regime as "ignorant" and "draconian" -- claiming it will make material that is legal offline illegal on the Internet. "The latest proposal by the government sets the debate on Internet censorship back three years", said EFA chair Kim Heitman. "The government is ignoring the expert advice of Internet industry associations and user groups, computer professionals, and even government departments.

"Only a few percent of Net content is located in Australia. Almost all the material being targeted by the government is legal in the United States. So the material our government is trying to ban or restrict access to will remain available from overseas.

"Suggestions that ISPs should 'block access to such material hosted overseas' are totally impractical."

Monday saw the start of Part 2 in our Web of Porn News Special. ZDNet reports on the efforts of parents, police and governments to stop paedophiles operating on the Net. Take me to the Web of Porn Special