ISPs should be licensed says report

The select committee reviewing the Films, Videos and Publications Act is calling for a licensing or registration of all ISPs 'in order to control their behaviour'.

The select committee reviewing the Films, Videos and Publications Act is calling for a licensing or registration of all ISPs "in order to control their behaviour".

The government administration select committee has been reviewing the act and has reported its findings back to government. While most of the findings relate to the film and video industries, the report also looks at online publications and where the responsibility lies for obscene material.

The report's recommendations include introducing a voluntary code of practice for ISPs that will be enforced should ISPs not comply and a licensing or registration of all ISPs "in order to control their behaviour".

On top of that the report notes that the Department of Internal Affairs receives a high level of assistance from ISPs when approached, however the department has gone beyond that point already.

"We note that the department and two ISPs are currently trialling software that alerts both parties to the fact that people were trading known objectionable material in newsgroups."

No explanation of how this software works is given in the report. The department did not immediately return IDGNet's call.

The report also looks at the Australian model, which has raised a lot of ire in Australia.

The Australian Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Act 1999 provided for a procedure that meant ISPs could be held accountable for content held on their servers.

"We note that the Australian act has been criticised for mandating that adult discourse be placed behind locked gates, for ‘chilling’ the behaviour of ISPs and ICHs [internet content hosts], for imposing onerous obligations on this part of the private sector, and for being ineffective. The small number of complaints received has also been interpreted as undermining the scheme."

The report also notes that the Australian act relies heavily on the effectiveness of so-called "censor ware," which is supposed to block out objectionable material.

"ISPs are required to provide to their customers one of the ‘approved’ filtering software products listed in the codes, and the ABA is to notify the makers of the approved filters of prohibited or potential prohibited Internet content hosted overseas that has been the subject of complaint."

The report also notes the Law Commission does not consider the Australian model to be "an effective control mechanism"

"It considers that a scheme that relies on an end-user accepting filtering products and services achieves little because the power to access objectionable material remains with the individual end-user".

Despite this, the report then goes on to recommend such a programme for New Zealand because there is "some value in a scheme that enables parents to supervise access by their children to material notified unsuitable for children despite the host being able to bypass the filter by renaming or relocating".

"Despite our reservations about the Australian model, we consider that the only effective way to police objectionable material emanating from outside New Zealand is by placing obligations on ISPs that operate in New Zealand, particularly as individuals generally access the Internet by subscribing to a service provided by an ISP".

Industry reaction

Report a wake-up call for ISPs, says InternetNZ

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