Australia to strengthen 'Net regulation

Australian ISPs will be required to take 'all reasonable steps' to block access to objectional material hosted overseas under new Internet regulations announced by a government minister. The government is establishing what it terms a 'classification regime' designed to regulate and monitor Internet content.

Australia is set to get tougher on Internet regulation, a government minister has announced, specifically to afford further protection to children who might stumble across objectionable material while browsing the World Wide Web.

The Australian government is establishing what it terms a "classification regime" designed to regulate and monitor Internet content, Senator Richard Alston, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, said in a statement. The government intends to propose legislation to back up the regime as soon as feasible, he added.

While highlighting the positive influences of the 'Net in areas such as job creation and information access, Alston drew attention to the fact that many children access the Internet. Given the current technical difficulties involved in trying to fully block access to "illegal and highly offensive material," it's vital for the government to protect children by coming up with a content classification regime, he said in the statement.

However, Alston said that the government will not hold ISPs (Internet service providers) primarily responsible for the material they host as that responsibility rests with the material's creator. But once ISPs are alerted to the fact that they are hosting objectionable or illegal material, they are obligated to remove it, he added.

The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) will administer the regime and deal with complaints concerning objectionable 'Net content., Alston said in the statement. Alongside the ABA, the government also intends to set up a community/industry body to monitor Internet content and to act as a first port of call for members of the public wishing to make a complaint about Web site content via a hotline.

Under Australian classification standards, if objectionable content hosted locally is rated RC (refused classification) or X (pornographic or graphically violent), ABA will be empowered to issue an interim notice to the ISP to prevent publication of or access to the content, Alston said. The Authority must then seek a National Classification Board ruling on the content and can notify the necessary local or international police agencies.

Local ISPs will be required to adopt self-regulatory codes of practice, Alston said in the statement. One of the codes will require ISPs to agree to take "all reasonable steps" to block access to RC or X material hosted overseas, once they have been informed by ABA that they are hosting objectionable content .

According to figures the Arlington Heights, Illinois-based Computer Industry Almanac released in February, Internet users in Australia numbered 4.36 million [M] last year.

The Australian government's Web site is at http://www.fed.gov.au/. Senator Alston's Web site can be reached at http://www.richardalston.dcita.gov.au/.

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