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Australian Government to censor the Web

09 October, 2007
By Allison Orr

Legislation has been introduced into the Australian parliament that will give the Federal Police Commissioner the power to block and ban websites that are believed to have criminal or terrorist content, as part of the Government’s NetAlert initiative.

Currently the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has the power to block websites containing pornographic content, but the Federal Communications Minister, Senator Helen Coonan, has proposed to expand the "black list" of Internet addresses.  The legislation will give Australian Federal Police (AFP) the power to notify ISPs if "the AFP Commissioner has reason to believe that Internet content is crime or terrorism related content", who will then be required to prevent users accessing the content.

Senator Eric Abetz said: “Cyber crime is on the increase globally, with criminals abusing the anonymity of the online world to carry out offences ranging from unwanted sexual approaches to online fraud.…. Rapid black listing means that the damage these sites can do can be more quickly reduced whilst take-down and prosecution processes are pursued, usually overseas. A website only needs to be online for a short period to do harm…. The new arrangements will allow harmful sites to be more quickly added to software filters. Of course the best outcome is for these sites to be taken down and their hosts prosecuted. But this takes time, particularly as most of these sites are hosted overseas.

Critics have denounced the legislation, stating that it could lead to non-offensive content being inadvertently blocked and may slow Internet speeds.  Complying with the take-down notifications may also prove difficult and costly.

To read the legisation in full: Communications Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content) Bill 2007

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