Federal Police could soon have the power to control which sites can and cannot be viewed by Australian Web surfers.
In a Bill introduced to Parliament yesterday, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content) Bill 2007, the Federal Police will be able to alter the "blacklist" of sites that are currently prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The list is currently comprised of pornography and "offensive material". However, under the amendment, the Federal Police would be able to add other sites to the list, including content that the AFP Commissioner: "has reason to believe ... is crime or terrorism related content".
The definition of material that may be liable to censorship includes Internet content that "encourages, incites or induces," "facilitate[s]" or "has, or is likely to have, the effect of facilitating" a crime.
Once such content has been identified by the AFP, ISPs may be responsible for blocking their users from accessing it.
According to the government, the legislation is designed to target phishing and terrorist sites, among other online criminal activity.
Introducing the Bill, Senator Eric Abetz said: "The new arrangements will allow harmful sites to be more quickly added to software filters. Of course the best outcome is for these sites to be taken down and their hosts prosecuted. But this takes time, particularly as most of these sites are hosted overseas.
"Rapid blacklisting means that the damage these sites can do can be more quickly reduced whilst takedown and prosecution processes are pursued, usually overseas," said Abetz.
Privacy groups have already criticised the legislation as an attack on free speech.
"This government's extremism has reached new heights today," said the chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation, Roger Clarke.
"How can a politician claim the right to hold office if they set out to undermine the critical democratic right of freedom of speech, and blatantly decline to evaluate the impact of measures put before the Parliament?"