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
"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
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
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.
Suck it up, tuck it in, and up the dosage.