Every cloud has a silver lining?

Irene Graham rene@pobox.com
Thu, 24 Oct 1996 23:35:41 +1000

On Wed, 23 Oct 1996 23:03:47 EDT, mark.hughes@ccamatil.com wrote:
>For example: what if someone leaves on your phone answering machine,
>details about how to obtain child pornography?  Or faxes child
>pornography from outside Oz to hundreds of people inside Oz?  Are
>you legally liable for stuff you didn't ask for but did receive?

In the case of child abuse material, in Australia, yes. Possession, of
itself, is a crime.

You raise some interesting and valid points, however the simple fact is the
government, the law enforcement authorities, don't give a damn.

Over the past 18 months at least, numerous people have been raising the
issue of criminal liability for possession of unsolicited material received
via the Net. I, for one, have discussed it with:
- the (ex) Qld Minister for Consumer Affairs/(censorship) (by letter)
- the Qld State Censor & a ministerial adviser to the A-G (in person)
- a representative of the WA Censorship Office (by email)

By and large, the responses are along the lines:
a)	if you receive illegal material in your (snail mail) letter box, you
	possess that, that's illegal, "why should the Internet be any
b)	that if possession is not a crime, people will be encouraged to
	obtain such material, and
c)	there can be no defences in relation to unsolicited material
	because people would just claim they didn't solicit it.

Most of us do not walk down the street with our snail mail address
emblazoned on our backs. Trying to explain to the non.net.literate just how
exposed we are to blackmailers and pranksters on the Net is a formidable
task. They have absolutely and utterly no comprehension of the danger.
What's more they don't want to, it's simply too hard. The few who
eventually do, continue to maintain (c) above.

A letter to the Qld Minister last November, explaining in detail why the
Qld Act should be reviewed as a matter of urgency, received the response "I
am aware that the Qld Police Service has taken action under the provisions
of the Classification of Computer Games and Images (Interim) Act 1995
against some individuals. As these matters have not been resolved it would
not be appropriate for me to comment about the efficacy of the provisions
of that Act".

Presumably, existing law in unlikely to ever be reviewed. Meanwhile,
Western Australia is about to enact their censorship legislation never mind
the Federal Government's intentions (not that they're likely to be much

Laws against possession afford no protection to Net users. On the contrary,
they make life easy for criminals to incriminate the innocent. Laws
intended to catch criminals are of course commendable. However, I predict
that laws against possession of material received via the Net will "catch"
far more innocent people, than they will those who abuse children.

>I suspect spamming will continue; its interesting to note that
>strategically it may play a role in the effectiveness of government

Yes, but it won't stop innocent Net users being subjected to police raids
of their home, the trauma and cost of a trial, and potential conviction.

The silver lining may be that, if there was enough mainstream publicity,
governments, legislators and law enforcement authorities may finally
comprehend. The question then will be, do they care.


Irene Graham, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.  PGP key on h/page.
The Net Censorship Dilemma: <http://www.pobox.com/~rene/liberty/>
"A year from now you may wish you had started today."  Karen Lamb.