Porn bans whip up campuses

June 11, 1999

The Australian senate has narrowly passed legislation that will ban pornographic images and illegal material such as bomb-making instructions from being transmitted over the internet.

Universities had expressed alarm at the prospect of attempting to block content not under their control. In a submission to a senate inquiry, the Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee said the new rules were based on a simplistic and unworkable assumption that "in all contexts there is a clear separation of consumers and service providers in a commercial relationship".

"While we understand the desire by the government to restrict the availability of undesirable and offensive material on the internet, the act fails to recognise the relationships between universities and between universities and their student bodies and communities," the AVCC said.

Last week, AVCC executive officer Stuart Hamilton said vice-chancellors were still concerned about the effects and the difficulties in universities complying.

Under the legislation, to come into force next January, material rated either X or refused classification will be banned and R-rated material will be available only to users over 18. Following passage of the bill through the senate, critics resumed their attacks.

The law means it will be an offence for a provider to allow access to illegal material. A "Net Watch" will be set up to receive complaints about internet content and, after being warned, internet service providers will have to remove material rated X or refused classification if they host it for a third party.

Following widespread protests, the government made amendments so that email is exempt, but not newsgroup postings. Technical and commercial feasibility will be considered as the government makes decisions on the possibility of filtering traffic on the country's backbone network.

ISPs may be able to avoid high-level blocking provisions if access is subject to a "recognised alternative access-prevention arrangement". These could include end-user blocking software and "family-friendly" filtered access.

* The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decided last month not to regulate the internet, arguing that regulation might put Canada at a competitive disadvantage globally. www.crtc.gc.ca

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