Customs may get control over e-porn

Transfer of electronic publications into New Zealand via telecommunications will be put on the same footing as importing of physical publications from the point of view of Customs powers, if the Customs Amendment Bill No 4 becomes law.

The amendment to the customs bill, currently before Parliament, means someone electronically importing a publication classified "objectionable" under the censors' Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act (FV&PC) will be committing an offence, as they would be if they imported a similar physical publication.

But this will not mean a Customs representative within every ISP, or any surveillance of email or other communications by Customs, says national manager of investigations Matt Roseingrave.

Rather, detection of illegal e-porn will use "our normal investigation techniques", Roseingrave says. He declines to go into great detail, but says for example if Customs officers have a warrant to search premises for illegally imported physical publications like books, videotapes and CD-ROMs, they could also search computers on the premises and, if and when the bill becomes law, prosecute the owner for additional offences.

Possession and trading of objectionable electronic material is already an offence, he acknowledges, and investigation of this is pursued energetically by the department of Internal Affairs' censorship compliance team. But the DIA has no power to search a premises on suspicion of simple possession of illegal material, only for creating it or trading in it.

Customs has the power to search for simple possession arising through import, and the aim is for this to apply to electronic material.

In the case of physical publications, Customs also has power to prevent import at the border. Since it does not currently have the power to do this with electronic imports, there is an inequality before the law, and the current measure seeks to remedy this, says Roseingrave.

The definition of importation in the bill excludes broadcasting. There is currently a lack of clarity on whether certain types of web communication such as "streaming" video, where no complete copy of the video file exists at the viewer's end, or live performance in front of a web camera, are "publications" or broadcasts. This matter is being addressed by the government adminstration select committee's inquiry into the FV&PC Act, due to wrap up its deliberations last week.

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