ISPs liable for Net porn in legal deal ~
14 Oct 98 15:02:59 +1100
FYI from yesterday's Australian newspaper.
ISPs liable for Net porn in legal deal
By NICOLE MANKTELOW
INTERNET service providers may face liability for child pornography and
other illegal online content after a series of top-level meetings on Net
regulation in Australia.
The deadlock on Internet legislation appears over, after a two-year tussle
between the Department of Communications and the Standing Committee of
The Department of Communications has backed down from its original stance,
and now supports draft legislation that could make ISPs legally responsible
for content passing through their systems.
"The sticking point between Communications and the Attorneys-General over
one aspect - ISP liability - was unstuck two months before the election," a
A spokesman for Communications Minister Richard Alston said there had been
difficulties in finding the right wording for the legislation.
"We don't want ISPs to be liable for things they didn't generate, but it's
hard to write the law to ensure ISPs do have some responsibility, at the
right level," he said.
In July last year, Senator Alston and Attorney-General Daryl Williams
announced a joint effort to work on principles for a national approach to
regulate online services content.
An early document, titled Government Proposals for Regulating Internet
Content, says "ISPs will only be liable under State and territory
legislation to the extent that they are involved in the creation of
content", and not for being the gateways to the Internet. The Communications
Ministry backdown came after strong comments from Tasmanian independent
Senator Brian Harradine on Internet content control, and his continuing
crusade against pornography.
It is also a response to concerns in the community for child safety after a
secret paedophile ring, Wonderland Club, operating on the Internet, was
broken by police in September, resulting in two arrests in Australia.
Delays in legislating were allowing "people like Harradine to call for more
draconian measures than circumstances warrant," the source said.
A spokesman for the Federal Attorney-General said the issue of ISP liability
was complicated, and discussions aimed to find an appropriate "light-touch
"It is recognised the roles of service and content providers are different,"
he said. "Service providers could be liable if they knowingly placed or
allowed illegal material on their systems, or if after being informed they
have not taken steps to remove such material."
The Internet industry claims legislation making ISPs liable is unworkable,
raises concerns about free speech, and could stifle Australia's chances for
The Internet Industry Association's director Peter Coroneos said the group
was "looking forward to seeing draft legislation this year". "It needs to be
there before we can implement our code of conduct," he said.
The industry code of conduct is in line with ABA recommendations for online
The recommendations, which have been before Senator Alston for two years,
are regarded by the Internet industry as a sensible program.
Research and Policy
Australian Broadcasting Authority
phone: +61 2 9334 7938 fax: +61 2 9334 7799