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Australian Government Forms Regime Against Offensive Content

The Australian Federal Government is to introduce stronger measures to protect local Netizens against illegal or offensive Internet content.

Under the regime, which was announced today by Senator Richard Alston, minister for Communication, Information Technology and the Arts, several bodies would be created or adapted to monitor online material.

The government has also removed liability for transmitting offensive or illegal Internet material from Internet service providers (ISPs). Instead, the Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) declared in a statement that, "primary responsibility for such material should lie with the creator of the material."

The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) will be charged with administering this new regime. It will also replace ISPs as the first point of contact for complaints about Internet content, and will decide whether access to offensive material that attracts complaints should be ordered blocked by ISP proxy servers.

The government will establish a community/industry body to monitor online material, to provide advice about the complaints mechanism, to provide community information about products like Net filters, and to operate a public complaints "hotline." Information drawn from the hotline will be passed on to the ABA and to relevant law enforcement agencies in Australia and overseas.

In order to work, however, this regime provides for, and relies on, ISPs to embrace self-regulatory codes of practice for offensive material to be blocked at their proxy server end. If material is sufficiently offensive or illegal, the regime also depends on the cooperation of foreign law enforcement bodies to stop its production. Senator Alston, however, maintained that this was a necessary course of action to complement and extend beyond PC-based filtering products such as Net Nanny and Cyberwatch. The government intends to present the legislation to establish its regime as soon as possible.