RealTime IT News

SA Introduce First State-Based Net Bill

AUSTRALIA -- The South Australian parliament will next month debate a range of amendments to their state-based Classification Bill to include online content, in line with the Federal Government's Online Censorship Amendment. The Amendment focuses on individuals responsible for uploading "offensive" content and will include online discussion groups and e-mail.

The SA Government is believed to be the first of the State/Territory Governments to act on the Commonwealth Government's request that they enact complementary enforcement legislation applicable to Internet users and content providers.

The Australian Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2000, is expected to be debated by the South Australian Parliament during its sittings commencing 13 March 2001.

"Among other things, the Bill criminalises making available content unsuitable for children online," Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) says, "even if the content is only made available to adults."

In other words, if a person places "matter unsuitable for minors" on a Web page, even on a password protected section of a site and the password is given only to adults, that person could be prosecuted under criminal law.

As with the Federal Governments Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill 1999, "matter unsuitable for minors" is content that is, or would be, classified R by a majority decision of the members of the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC).

The maximum penalty planned is $10,000 and the Bill covers content placed on the web (including archived mailing lists), messages to newsgroups, and so on.

"The Bill complements the Commonwealth's laws passed last year, allowing concerned members of the public to complain about offensive Internet sites," South Australian Attorney-General Trevor Griffen says. "Access to these sites can be removed through the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). The proposed State laws will allow prosecution of the persons who upload this content. They do not catch the service provider, who is already covered by the Commonwealth law."

While the drafters of the SA Bill have made minor changes to the draft model national legislation issued in August 1999 for public comment by the South Australian Attorney-General and some others, EFA believe the SA Bill is a "profoundly flawed document."

EFA disagree with Griffen, saying "the provision is also inconsistent with Commonwealth law. The ABA has no power to issue a take down notice to Internet Content Hosts (ICH) relative to content it considers "would be" classified R. However, the SA Bill enables prosecution of an Internet user to commence prior to the material being classified during which time it is legal for the ICH to continue to make the material available to both minors and adults. (ICH activities are regulated by Commonwealth law, not SA law.)"

Rather than address the inten