Internal Affairs 'working with ISPs' on illegal newsgroups

A clean up of Internet newsgroups appears to be under way in New Zealand.

A clean up of New Zealand's Internet newsgroups appears to be under way, with ISPs being warned they could face prosecution.

Internal Affairs is in the throes of a kind of “Claytons” crackdown. Staff are visiting all ISPs and discussing the current law--primarily the Films Videos and Publications Classification Act--as it affects such organisations. However, the department is emphasising voluntary compliance and seems to be keeping the big stick locked in the woodshed.

"At this stage the whole aim is to work alongside them," says Steve O'Brien, who heads Internal Affairs censorship division.

Prosecutions are still targeted at users rather than the ISPs themselves. Last week one ISP was subject to a search by Internal Affairs staff, who were looking for information about material a particular user was downloading. The department was not at that stage holding the ISP liable.

However, at least one business has been told that if it has a news server, it is a content provider, not a carrier--and thus liable for the content in newsgroups.

John Vorstermans, who manages Wellington ISP Actrix, told last week's Internet Society meeting that ISPs could very easily find themselves in the gun if Internal Affairs chose to prosecute.

He points to Section 3 of the FVPC Act, which includes among its definition of objectionable any publication which promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support:

* exploitation of children for sexual purposes

* use of violence or coercion to compel anyone to participate in sexual activity

* sexual activity with the dead

* use of urine or excrement in association with degrading or dehumanising conduct or sexual conducts

* bestiality

* acts of torture or sadism.

"There are newsgroups that relate to all these things," Vorstermans points out. "If ISPs start censoring them they start being content providers. But, in any case, Internal Affairs staff have said that if we provide a news server we are a content provider."

In similar vein to Vorstermans' comments, O'Brien says there are categories where it is pretty clear the material is going to be in breach of the act.

"And where it is that clear, it should be wiped."

There are cases where it is not so clear, though.

"There could be a newsgroup on paedophilia where it is simply a discussion on the topic, and there's nothing wrong with that. But where a person is downloading kiddy porn there's a quite clear breach of the act."

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