Australia to Implement Net Censorship Law in January

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is set to implement new rules that will impose stringent regulations on online and mobile companies that offer sexually oriented content.

The new Restricted Access Systems Declaration, which goes into effect January 20, 2008, will put new restrictions on online chatrooms, websites and mobile phone content in an effort to prevent children from viewing unsuitable content. The new rules will apply to content that is either “hosted in Australia or provided from Australia.”

Among other requirements, all content service providers will have to ensure that individuals accessing restricted content provided in Australia are at least 15 years of age for MA15+ content or 18 years of age for R18+ content.

According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the government’s media and communications regulatory agency, “The new regulatory framework will apply to most content service providers who supply content via a carriage service. Access to commercial MA15+ and R18+ content provided to consumers as internet content, live content via the internet, mobile premium services including mobile portal and premium rate SMS/MMS services, and premium rate voice services will be subject to the restricted access rules. Telephone sex services will be subject to the restricted access declaration from 20 July 2008 when provisions of Part 9A of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 governing such services are repealed.”

The main requirements of the new regulatory framework are:

* a prohibition on X18+ and RC content;
* a prohibition on R18+ content, unless it is subject to appropriate access restrictions;
* a new prohibition on commercial MA15+ content, unless it is subject to appropriate access restrictions;
* providers of hosting services, live content services, link services and commercial content services to have in place access restrictions if providing R18+ and commercial MA15+ content;
* ‘take down’, ‘service cessation’ and ‘link deletion’ notices to remove content or access to content that is the subject of a complaint; and
* a co-regulatory approach that provides for the development of industry codes to address issues including the classification of content, procedures for handling complaints about content and increasing awareness of potential safety issues associated with the use of content services.

Not everyone is pleased with the new laws, however. Australian privacy and free speech groups have denounced the new measures as extreme, undemocratic and bad for business.

In a declaration issued in November, the Australian Privacy Foundation stated, “As currently drafted, the proposed scheme of Restricted Access Systems Declarations is an unwarranted and frightening violation of people’s legitimate expectation of privacy.”

Last month, Fiona Patten, CEO of the Eros Association, Australia's industry trade association, told XBIZ, “This [regulatory scheme] will be devastating to the Australian industry and bad for anyone internationally who has Australian customers."