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Reposted with permission from Wired... -ac

Copyright  1994-99 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved.


Australian Net Censor Law Passes
by Stewart Taggart

8:15 a.m.  30.Jun.99.PDT
CANBERRA, Australia -- The political leaders of this nation
on Wednesday passed into law one of the world's most
far-reaching online content censorship regimes.

The rules -- which take effect 1 January, 2000 -- enable
Australian government regulators to order domestic
Internet service providers (ISPs) to take down indecent or
offensive Web sites housed on their servers, and also
require they block access to certain domestic or
overseas-based content.

"We're on fairly new ground here," said Stephen Nugent,
special projects manager for the Australian Broadcasting
Authority (ABA). "The codes of practice envisaged under
this legislation are probably more detailed, and cover a
greater range of matters, than I have seen in any other
country."

Known as the "Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online
Services) Act", the measure was approved by the House
of Representatives late Wednesday night, according to a
staffer in the office of Communications Minister Richard
Alston. The measure had passed the more contentious
Australian Senate on 26 May.

The new law will institute a movie-like rating system for
Internet content. The ABA will order ISPs to take down
content on their servers rated X (Sexually Explicit) or RC
(Refused Classification) within 24 hours of being notified.

For opponents of online content restrictions, the struggle
will now shift to cyberspace itself. They believe the
Internet simply will prove too large, too decentralized, and
too fast-moving for regulators anywhere to successfully
block access to any content for long.

Among the defiant is Perth-based online entrepreneur
Bernadette Taylor. Known to her Web site admirers as a
"Virtual Girlfriend," she offers nude photos of herself and
personalized email communication to paying members.

To Taylor, passage of the law merely begins a
hide-and-seek game she professes little doubt she'll win.
With a Web site housed in Dallas, Texas, she plans to stay
one step ahead of the nation's blocking mechanisms for as
long as the law lasts.

"With a bit of effort the ABA could find (and block) me
every day but they'd have to spend five to 10 minutes
doing it," she says. "In the meantime, I'm compiling a mail
list which has all the people that want notification of where
I am."

She believes her Australian-based users will encounter
little ongoing difficulty accessing her site, either through
using encryption software or through proxy servers that
disguise the source of material.

One such proxy server has been set up by South
Australian Web site builder and e-commerce businessman
Mike Russell. By visiting www.whois.com.au, Australian
Web users will be able to access any site they want
without disclosing where they're visiting.

Since banning proxy servers isn't included in the
legislation, Russell says there will be little Australian
regulators can do.

Among other defiant gestures, Russell is calling for a
worldwide boycott by Web sites of visitors from "gov.au"
domains -- recommending all such visitors be redirected
by webmasters to the home page of Electronic Frontiers
Australia, the online civil liberties group that spearheaded
a failed effort to stop the law.

In introducing the online content legislation, the
center-right government of Prime Minister John Howard
argued that some controls are needed to limit access by
children to pornographic content on the Internet, as well
as other material that could be deemed offensive.

Passage of the law comes amid research showing Internet
use is rising rapidly in Australia. Figures released
Wednesday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed
nearly 18 percent of Australia's households now have
some form of Internet access -- a rise of nearly 50
percent in one year. Nearly 40 percent of Internet
households in Australia now access the Internet on a daily
basis, the researchers found.

To Grant Bayley, a Sydney spokesman for 2600 Australia,
an organization of technology enthusiasts, the fact that the
law comes into force on 1 January, 2000 provides at least
one indication that Australian lawmakers may not have
been fully cognizant on all the issues involved.

"January 1 is not going to be one of the best days in the
world to implement this," he said, referring to the
long-feared Year 2000 problem in which worldwide
computers may start acting up due to the millennial date
change.

"There are going to be much bigger problems around," he
said.


Copyright  1994-99 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved.


Andy Carvin
WWWEDU Coordinator and Moderator
andy@gsn.org

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