RealTime IT News

Australia Tackles ISP, Legal Issues

Australia's Internet Industry Association (IIA) recently gathered in Sydney to discuss legal and pricing-related issues for Australian ISPs and corporate Internet users.

The Australian IIA, the peak national industry body for the Internet, was formed in 1997 to represent the interests of the country's Internet industry, increase consumer confidence in e-commerce, promote progressive cyberlaws, and educate the public about challenges and opportunities in the Internet world.

The cost of trans-Pacific Internet links to the U.S. is emerging as a key concern for international gateway providers in Asia and Australia.

"ISPs in the region need to band together to jointly address their concerns over being charged for traffic in either direction on links to the U.S. Internet, unlike the case of other telecommunications links," said David Luck, a government research analyst at the Department of Communications in Canberra.

He urged corporate users of the Net to jointly investigate issues like cost-performance trade-offs in network traffic, dial-in congestion, leased-line rates, and ISDN or xDSL options in configuring their networks.

Other challenges lie in the area of Internet content. A recent conference in Europe focused on growing concern over the use of the Net by pedophiles and child pornographers; crackdown on such abuse of the Net has happened in Australia as well.

Vince Hole, senior constable and analyst at the Child Protection Enforcement Agency in New South Wales, said ISPs are increasingly being asked for information and access records during criminal investigations.

"But we are not enforcing charges of criminal negligence if ISPs cannot keep old logs of user access due to routine clearing of logs," Hole said.

Law enforcement officials such as the British police, U.S. Customs, and FBI are entering into cooperation agreements with Australian law enforcement officials on Internet-related matters.

Even issues from the traditional media world--such as copyright and defamation--can take on new forms in cyberspace. Patrick Fair, a partner at legal firm Phillips Fox in Sydney, said the landmark Communications Decency Act passed in the U.S. last year sets a good precedent in defining ISPs as separate from traditional publishers, thus absolving them of some charges of defamation based on activities conducted by other Internet users.

But defamation charges across national boundaries can pose complex challenges, as in the case of a British Internet user who brought charges in a British court against an Internet user in the U.S. "There are problems of international jurisdiction in this case," said Fair.

Numerous cases of copyright infringement of intellectual property have been surfacing across the Internet world. Michael Ward, vice president at ISP OzeMail, said his organisation had recently been slapped with a major lawsuit involving online posting of copyrighted works.

"ISPs need to encourage people to post their intellectual property work online--while also ensuring respect of these rights and protection against unfair charges of copyright violation," Ward said. "We need to galvanise the ISP industry to protect the copyright of Internet users."

Complex questions have arisen in Australia about wholesale ISPs being responsible for the faults of retail ISP customers. Technological solutions can come to the rescue here--products like Liquid Audio (recently bought by Microsoft) can track usage patterns, number of downloads, and some user identities for online multimedia products, for instance.

At the Internet Society's recent INET '98 conference in Geneva, legal and regulatory issues were one of the key topics discussed regarding the Net's future. In fact, Vinton Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, said that the financial as well as legal aspects would be more important than the purely technical issues for the Internet's future.

The recent gathering of the IIA in Sydney seems to confirm that such trends are already occurring in Australia.