Board Report: 1996 Annual General Meeting

CHAIRPERSON'S REPORT 1996

ELECTRONIC FRONTIERS AUSTRALIA (Inc.)

For Annual General Meeting of EFA , 22 September 1996

Net Regulation

1996 has been the year in which the threatened regulation of the Internet around the world found expression in legislation and draconian proposals by governments.

In the United States, the ill-conceived Communications Decency Act was ruled unconstitutional , proving the value of a constitutional guarantee of free speech. Judge Dalzell held :

" As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion."

after hearing from experts and technical advisors as to the oppressive impact of the proposed transmission offences.

Oblivious to this decision , governments such as China and Singapore have imposed heavy-handed censorship of the Net in those countries ; official pressure in Germany and Great Britain has obliged service providers to comply with censorship of newsgroups and Australian governments have been among those worldwide attempting to regulate content on the Net.

EFA opposes regulation of Internet content on ethical and technical grounds. Further , given the evidential considerations and the inappropriateness of transferring some laws of general application to the Internet , there is emerging a consensus among civil liberties organisations that the Internet community must hold fast to the principle that a service provider bears no more responsibility for delivery of data than a postal worker , even if that conflicts with National laws.

EFA submissions

The battle for free speech rages over a number of fronts , and EFA has the limited resources of a volunteer association with which to defend on-line freedoms. The year has been busy , and has had some successes. The EFA Board has authorised responses to the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into Net regulation , the Australian Broadcasting Authority Issues Paper and the draft NSW "model" legislation for classifying Internet content.

The STOP! Campaign against the NSW "model" legislation put together a coalition of EFA members , net.activists and concerned members of the Internet community to demonstrate against the draft Bill , culminating in a march and rally in Sydney in May. While it was pleasing to see the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General reject the draft NSW bill in July, the release of the ABA report recommending a "self-regulation" model for controlling the Net may have exchanged an overt censorship regime with a covert one.

Industry Codes of Practice

Central to the ABA approach is an industry "code of practice" , ostensibly drafted by the service provider industry , but subject to approval by the ABA. It is significent that one industry body has responded with a draft code that creates a bureaucracy with a government appointee at the head, no vote by members on the code of practice , and the requirement to adopt rating of content on the government's terms. Other industry bodies , such as the State and Territory Internet Associations , are developing codes of practice that will be subject to further scrutiny by local authorities.

The task for 1997 will be to resist the imposition of censorship on the Internet in Australia by governments under any guise. EFA will be continuing to campaign against laws which restrict the ability of a service provider to provide an uncensored service , or deny users access to information or the freedom to communicate.

Access to the Internet is a right to be claimed , defended and advanced. EFA sought from prospective candidates at the last Federal election responses to the "Oz Pledge" , a series of commitments to the Net and on-line freedoms. Some parties are now becoming more net.savvy , and EFA is developing links with media and political staffers with a view to placing Internet freedoms in the mainstream of policy debate.

International Cooperation

EFA has been a foundation member of a global coalition of EF groups, including representatives from USA , Europe and civil rights groups. This coalition has released bulletins and position papers on international free speech issues and highlighting particular governments' attacks on the Net. EFA has been part of the international debate on free speech, Internet regulation, cryptography policy and the grasp of criminal law.

Public Profile

EFA has this year taken steps to raise the organisation's public profile and to make the Board available for enquiries. Each Tuesday evening on IRC , Board members meet the Internet community and discuss EFA campaigns and policy. This year , several EFA articles and columns have appeared in State and national periodicals and the EFA-WOMEN mailing lists and web pages have been instituted to welcome more women to the Net and to EFA.

Timed Local Data Calls

Included in important access issues has been a campaign against proposals by Telstra to charge local data calls on a timed basis. EFA sees this as a threat to access to the Net for low-income users , libraries and schools , and unjustified by any economic argument. With the deregulation of telecommunications and the part-privatisation of Telstra ahead, EFA will be involved in campaigns to ensure that the access to the Net remains equitable and efficient under new laws and policies.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the chairpersons of the Cryptography , EFA-Women, Rules Revision and STOP! Campaign committees for their work throughout the year , and express my appreciation for the efforts of committee members in formulating policy and directing action. As Chairperson in the forthcoming year , I look forward to working with EFA members old and new in continuing to campaign for on-line freedoms.

Kimberley Heitman,
Chairperson , EFA
22 September 1996