Re: Review of the Government's Decision to Regulate Online Services
I am writing to you as an Australian content provider. That is to say, I am the publisher of a web site hosted on a server located within Australia.
While the government's Bill regulating online services does not directly apply to content providers, it has obvious implications for them. Under that Bill, if a content provider publishes "prohibited" content, then their content hosting service can be required to remove it following a notice from the ABA. (There is also an implicit assumption in the Bill that consistent censorship laws will be created by the states and territories, which will presumably mean criminal penalties for online publication of "prohibited" content.)
This means that the Bill will affect content providers. This submission addresses the problems that I, as a content provider, will face as a result of this Bill.
My web site
I work at Sydney University and my web site is hosted there. It contains:
The Effects of the Bill
Is anything on my site "prohibited content" under the definitions in the Bill? It is impossible for me to answer this, since I have not even viewed most of the archive pages, which were created by automated archiving software from mailing lists and Usenet feeds. But anthropology discussions are wide-ranging, regularly touching on incest, rape, and other controversial topics. My web server logs reveal that many people looking for pornography are regularly being directed by search engines to my web pages.
Unfortunately the Online Services Bill has chosen to apply the Film and Video guidelines to Internet content. Under those guidelines it is probable that some of my content would be classified X or even RC, and hence "prohibited". (For example, explicit descriptions of the procedures involved in female circumcision.)
More worrying still is that the Bill makes R-rated content "prohibited" unless protected by an adult verification system. It is almost certain that some of the material in my archives would be R-rated.
My web pages are not protected by an adult verification system, nor am I in a position to deploy one. My site is entirely non-commercial, so I have no income from it to cover the costs of such a system. Moreover, if I were to deploy such a system, it would prevent search engines indexing my pages and hence prevent most people ever finding them - which would destroy their value as a resource.
The ABA and the Office of Film and Literature Classification will be forced to classify my whole site as a single item, since classifying it page by page is obviously impractical. I am therefore left facing the possibility that, following a complaint, classification by the OFLC, and a notice from the ABA, the university would be obliged to remove my entire web site.
Under the Bill, it is possible for this to happen without me being informed at any stage: there is no requirement under the legislation for the ABA to inform the content provider when a complaint is received, for the OFLC to inform the owner of the content which they classify, or for the content hosting service to warn the content provider before removing their content.
Moreover, if my site were deemed prohibited, I would have no standing under this Bill to appeal the decision, except as a general "aggrieved party". And I would have to pay the costs of the review myself (section 14).
If my site were commercial - if my livelihood depended on it - this would be even more of a concern.
I am planning to move my web site to a commercial content hosting service at some point. I will be paying upwards of $1000 a year for this, because of the size of the site and its traffic.
In the event of this Bill passing I will choose to host my content in the United States. That will be another thousand dollars towards our balance of trade deficit. And in terms of content flow it will mean 5MB a day of "imports" instead of 45MB a day of "exports". (Net content flows are used as an argument in international inter-carrier agreements, so this will contribute to extra charges being levied by US Internet backbone providers on Australian ones - Optus in this case, since they provide connectivity to Australian universities.)
Analysis of 1999 Legislation << Internet Censorship in Australia << Danny Yee