Internet becoming safer for kids?

A government-funded Internet safety body has launched a project to boost students and teachers' ability to avert online threats just days after a Bill to curb Internet sex crimes was introduced into the Senate. The safety body, NetAlert, yesterday launched the CyberSafe schools project, which it said was designed to help teachers minimise and manage potential online risks.

A government-funded Internet safety body has launched a project to boost students and teachers' ability to avert online threats just days after a Bill to curb Internet sex crimes was introduced into the Senate.

The safety body, NetAlert, yesterday launched the CyberSafe schools project, which it said was designed to help teachers minimise and manage potential online risks. The project is also designed to help students develop Internet safety skills to be applied at home and at school.

The move came after a Bill was introduced to the Senate last week to target the swapping of child pornography online, with offenders facing a sentence of up to 10 years. Those who procure online children under 16 for sex face a maximum sentence of up to 15 years.

The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Daryl Williams, said he would write to state and territory Ministers to encourage them to use the NetAlert resources.

The government established NetAlert in 1999 and continues to fund the organisation as the independent body under the Online Content Co-Regulatory Scheme.

NetAlert launched the Nettysworld Web site February this year to mark Safer Internet Day. The Web site is designed to educate children about safe Internet practices while helping them realise the advantages of going online.

Meanwhile, the second reading of the bill delivered to the Senate last Thursday stated "law enforcement agencies estimate that around 85 percent of child pornography seized in Australia is distributed via the Internet", and as such the new legislation will "target the very heart of the abhorrent child pornography industry."

The communications and IT Department released a statement following the Senate meeting saying that the new bill will "strike at the heart of the repulsive trade in material depicting the sexual abuse of children".

The department stated that the bill will also facilitate "consistent prosecution of offenders", and sends a "clear message to those who might engage in such perverse conduct".

The proposal authorises AFP officers and investigators at the Australian High Tech Crime Centre to assume a fictitious child identity to ensnare predatory users before a crime is committed against a real child.

The department stated that the legislation "demonstrates the Government will take a tough and uncompromising approach to protecting Australia's children from child sexual abuse."

The bill also covers new and updated areas of telecommunications legislation, including the "rebirthing" (changing the equipment serial numbers) of mobile phones and copying of SIM cards, Internet harassment, Internet hoaxes or threats, credit card skimming, and the transmission of suicide instructions.

The Senate address stated that the new amendments will also serve to criminalise Internet banking fraud, such as "phishing", stating that under the bill "any person who uses a deception to obtain another person's financial information will be guilty of an offence".

The address stated that the "proposed laws will ensure that Australians can feel more confident about electronic, telephone and Internet banking, knowing that penalties of up to five years imprisonment apply to those who capture or misuse their confidential financial details".

The communications and IT department said the new amendment will complement the existing State and Territory legislation and "give the Government a valuable tool to prosecute offences that have a national or widespread effect, or in some cases, an overseas aspect".

Further consideration of the bill is scheduled for the first day of the next period of the Senate's sittings.