ISP Paradise, which initially claimed it could do nothing about support of internet newsgroups likely to contain legally objectionable material, has taken down the groups after an inquiry from Computerworld.
All three of the Paradise groups removed contained a substantial number of photographic postings likely to offend against sections in the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act.
On an initial inquiry earlier this year by this reporter in his Paradise user role, one of Paradise’s support staff said the company could do nothing about excluding the offending newsgroups, “because they are fed to us from upstream”.
The feed comes from Giganews, based in the US, where federal censorship laws are not as strict as New Zealand’s, allowing pictures of minors posing nude or partly so, as long as they are not involved in sexual activity or “lewd display”. Interpretation of NZ law has banned almost all such images.
When TelstraClear’s ISPs become aware of material that violates its terms and conditions, staff bring it to the attention of the relevant government authorities, such as the DIA compliance team, and the company discusses the content with them, says TelstraClear spokesman Ralph Little.
TelstraClear and Paradise could be seen as passive "carriers", unable to exercise full control over what is communicated on their physical links and news channels, he says.
This status as it relates to ISPs is still unsettled in New Zealand law.
Little notes Paradise carries about 60,000 newsgroups, and can only make its best efforts to weed out potentially "offensive" groups, bearing in mind that new groups appear continually.
Early last Monday Paradise took down most of the groups mentioned, coincidentally just as this reporter was checking whether they were still accessible.
Meanwhile, in response to our inquiry and several recent requests from ISPs for guidance from the Department of Internal Affairs, the department's censorship compliance team will re-examine its list of banned groups and possibly issue an update to all ISPs.
"We were going to do this in a couple of months", says compliance officer Phil Priest, "but in view of these approaches, we've decided to do it now".
The original list was issued several years ago, since when many groups have been added and many have disappeared.
An effort to get Internal Affairs to use international contacts to kill a sample US-based website falling into the same “possibly legal in the US, probably illegal here” band has so far proved unsuccessful.
“We can only tell the overseas authorities about it", says Priest. "If they decide it's legal in their jurisdiction and they're not taking action, there's nothing we can do." A recent attempt to close a "grossly violent" site hosted in Delaware failed, he says, because the local authorities said that while it was quite offensive, it was legal there.
New Zealand internet-related prosecutions to date have been for "quite gross material", he says, featuring explicit sex by children and young adolescents, and in one case, bestiality; not for simple nude posing.