[ Electronic Frontiers Australia ]

Media Release

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Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 17 November 2001

NSW LAW WOULD CRIMINALISE INTERNET MATERIAL UNSUITABLE FOR CHILDREN

Electronic Frontiers Australia today warned that new Internet censorship
laws under consideration by NSW Parliament would criminalise Internet
material unsuitable for children. The legislation is expected to be voted
on this month. 

The law will cover text and images placed on the web, including email sent
to mailing lists that are archived on the web, and messages to newsgroups. 

"The Bill criminalises making available information unsuitable for children
online, even if the content is only made available to adults," said Irene
Graham, EFA Executive Director. "While a defence is offered, this
unjustifiably reverses the onus of proof and requires an Internet user to
defend themself in a court of law. It's doubtful an Internet user could
prove their innocence using the particular defence. Relevant technological
matters have been ignored or overlooked."

Graham said other serious criminal justice issues also need to be
addressed. "The proposals show an intent to treat ordinary NSW people who
use the Internet less fairly under criminal law than offline publishers.
For example, police could commence criminal proceedings against an Internet
user before online content has even been classified. However, NSW law
applicable to offline films and publications prevents police from
commencing prosecution until the material has been classified. Police are
not trained to apply classification guidelines, nor should they be. No
useful purpose is served by empowering police to commence criminal
proceedings on the basis of a wrong guess about the classification." 

In 1996, NSW citizens marched on Parliament after draft Internet censorship
legislation was leaked. The NSW government subsequently dropped that
proposal. EFA believes the NSW Government is attempting to rush the latest
version through Parliament before most citizens even become aware of it.

"The Bill should be suspended until its full ramifications have been
investigated, criminal justice issues and practical problems adequately
addressed, and appropriate amendments made."

"Failure to give proper consideration to the particular problems presented
by the Internet in comparison with traditional media censorship will result
in ineffective and unworkable legislation." 

"The proposed laws will not make it any easier for parents to protect their
children from offensive material on the worldwide Internet, but they will
restrict adults' freedom to communicate with each other online."

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      Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc  --  http://www.efa.org.au/
      representing Internet users concerned with on-line freedoms
      URL of this release: http://www.efa.org.au/Publish/PR011117.html
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      Media Contacts:

      Ms Irene Graham                  Mr Kimberley Heitman
      EFA Executive Director           EFA Chair
      Phone: 0412 997 163              Phone: 0408 881 421
      Email: ed at efa.org.au          Email: chair at efa.org.au


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Background:

EFA's comprehensive reference source on the NSW Bill, including links to
the Bill and a detailed analysis of same, is available at:
   http://www.efa.org.au/Campaigns/nswbill.html

The NSW Bill is part of the second component of the Commonwealth Internet
censorship legislation (effective 1 January 2000). The NSW Government is
believed to be the second of the State/Territory Governments to act on the
Commonwealth Government's request that they enact complementary enforcement
legislation applicable to Internet users and content providers. (The
Commonwealth legislation applies to Internet Service Providers and Internet
Content Hosts, not Internet users and content providers).

The South Australian Government tabled a similar Bill twelve months ago (in
November 2000) that had not been passed by the SA Parliament as at 17
November 2001. The SA Bill became the subject of an SA Parliamentary
inquiry, apparently as a result of considerable opposition to the Bill.
Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory enacted Internet
censorship legislation (in 1995/96) prior to the Commonwealth legislation
being enacted in 1999. It is not known whether they will amend their
legislation to bring it into line with the proposed "national" regime which
is more restrictive in some regards than existing laws in those
jurisdictions. For example, laws in the latter jurisdictions do not make it
a criminal offence to make available to adults material unsuitable for
minors.


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