As U.S. free-speech advocates celebrate last week's derailment of the
Communications Decency Act, the issue of objectionable material on the Internet is
heating up on yet another front: Australia.
The attorneys general of the eight Australian territories will meet in July
to consider nationwide adoption of Internet censorship regulations
proposed in April by Attorney General John Shaw of New South Wales. The
proposal follows attempts by two Australian territorial parliaments to
enact regulation of online content.
Even though regulations are only at the proposal stage, they are already drawing strong reaction. The online rights group Electronic Frontiers Australia has
recently launched a campaign called STOP! to encourage Australian Internet users to contact
their state attorneys general and protest.
Shaw has targeted what he describes as "the proliferation of offensive material--such as
pornography and sexually explicit games--on the Internet." If the law is
approved, access providers or Internet users found guilty of "transmission
of, permitting access to and retrieval of, and advertising of such
material" would be punished with up to two years' imprisonment.
proposal defines objectionable as anything that would "depict, express, or
otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime,
cruelty, violence, or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that
they offend against the standards of morality, decency, and propriety
generally accepted by reasonable adults."
Shaw's critics argue that the proposed law would force Internet service
providers to monitor their customers' email and other online activity, as
well as expose users to potential blackmail and harassment.
Australia is only the latest of many countries wrestling with regulation of
the booming Internet and the vast stores of information it delivers,
usually with little or no outside scrutiny before going online for millions
to see. In Europe, German and French police have taken action against
Internet access providers because of child pornography, while Asian
countries such as China, Singapore, and Vietnam point to national,
political and cultural interests as a reason to monitor or curb access to
the global network within their borders.
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