Is the Internet different?

Vice President of the Australian Chapter of the Internet Society and a Principal with Pavonis Consulting, Narelle Clark, argues we must not impose legislation that is defined by dated media

Narelle Clark

Narelle Clark

It has been argued in a number of forums that the Internet is special, and that the laws applicable to Internet behaviour need to be different to those of the 'offline world' as a result. Correspondingly, the negative argument is also put: That the Internet is not special, and that existing legislation is effective.

Controversy has raged in jurisdictions where governments have sought to apply strict controls to the Internet, and tied specific legislation to specific technologies and technical approaches. In our own Australian context, we have seen both sides of the Internet filtering debate argue the 'online world' is, and isn't, special, with corresponding calls for specific actions and precise technological fixes from both sides. The European Union has recently issued its Digital Agenda for Europe paper, and in turn its approaches to legislation and enforcement are under scrutiny again.

So where are the essential differences? Is there a difference between online and offline defamation, contempt of court, harassment, theft, trespass and so on? Are the acts essentially more (or less) severe, or more (or less) damaging, when committed online? Does it matter whether the act is committed with a mobile device, office computer, or a smart panel on your washing machine?

At the time of writing, Internet Society representatives in the Pakistan chapter are working closely with local civil rights groups to restore Facebook, YouTube and BlackBerry browsing services after Pakistan's regulator insisted all ISPs block all access due to content it deemed blasphemous, highly offensive and dangerously provocative. As a result, significant social disruption has probably been averted, but a side effect of this blockade is denial of Pakistani access to Flickr, Wikipedia and other more vital services. While the Western Facebook users who started the 'draw the Prophet Mohammed' competition may have felt they were boldly asserting their right to free speech, the direct consequence has been to put other lives, in a different cultural milieu, at risk and with an Internet blockade affecting millions. Is this a case of shouting fire in a crowded theatre, because the Internet places us all in the one cyberspace auditorium?

The Australian chapter of the Internet Society has argued strongly that our system of law needs to be robust enough to be applied and be enforceable independently of the medium. If an act is not acceptable in our society then legislation should be enacted and applied evenly, not tied to specific technical platforms or require specific technical steps. By the same token, we do not support other jurisdictions determining Australian approaches to defining criminality and Australian cultural norms.

Legislation covering Australian telephony has been technologically specific, instead of ensuring that all criminality was covered by the broader definitions of criminal behaviour. As we inevitably move to a world where broadband is ubiquitous (whether in the forthcoming Federal election or not), we must not impose legislation that is defined by dated media such as telephony, copying and television, and prevents us from recognising criminal behaviour regardless of the technology. It's time to move on.

Narelle Clark is an Internet engineer, the current Vice President of the Australian Chapter of the Internet Society and a Principal with Pavonis Consulting. She has recently been elected to the Board of Trustees for the Internet Society worldwide.

This story first appeared in the June/July print edition of Computerworld Australia.

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It is my contention the purpose of the internet filter is not to protect children. nor any other purpose. its target is the TIA the telecommunications Interception Act.

Current plans to filter the internet are illegal under the act.
To implement the filter the act must be watered down to nothingness. for example the act specifically states law enforcement cannot insist service providers hold information for any length of time. In the words of the act law enforcement must act swiftly to ensure the data they want is still available. Conroy has stated he wants all details of all activity maintained, therefore that part of the act must be removed.

With the act removed/rendered useless governments both benign and aggressive can do as they wish with impunity when it comes to spying on Australian citizens.
State Labor governments (Tas and SA [not repealed as promised]) have already implemented excessive controls such as the mandatory sequestering of poster details in forums such as this and other online forums. While they themselves operate with impunity.


Whoops too much...


DC, you are incorrect and misleading.

I have read all available transcripts and can find no location at all where Conroy states that:- "Conroy has stated he wants all details of all activity maintained"

Like to reference that from an authenticated trasncript of Conroys and the govt statements?

Big big difference between connection logs and "all activity", as well as the actual content downloaded, such as all blog entries, emails, chats, messaging, skype conversations etc.

Bit over the top mate???

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