Industry, activists welcome Internet filter back down

While the federal government had been seeking a mandatory Internet filtering scheme for the past five years, Senator Stephen Conroy has now said the government will seek to block child abuse websites listed by Interpol.

Potential changes to the Telecommunications Act

Philip Catania, partner and national technology law leader at law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, said the Telecommunications Act may need to be amended to clarify the role ISPs must play in blocking websites.

Section 313 of the Act includes the requirement that a carrier do their “best to prevent telecommunications networks and facilities from being used in, or in relation to, the commission of offences against the laws of the Commonwealth or of the states and territories”.

He said while the current legislation does provide sufficient power to prevent consumers accessing certain websites, some changes would be required to the Act to extend those powers, and it will be compulsory for ISPs to adhere to the Act and block Interpol-listed websites.

“I think it may be that potentially the government might want to specify with greater clarity the types of websites that people will be prevented from accessing or that ISPs will … need to put in procedures to limit access to [them], as opposed to leaving it to some fairly broad-ranging powers of ACMA,” Catania said.

Any changes to the Telecommunications Act would require passing amendments through both the House of Representatives and the Senate, according to Catania, and he believes it would be unlikely that amendments would be passed before the end of the year.

“They might try to rush it through quickly if they have bipartisan support, but what would normally happen is you would have to produce a draft of the legislation, it would have to be commented on, there might be a committee that would look at it and then the committee would report back to the Senate or to the House of Reps,” Catania said.

“If it passes through one house, it would then have to pass through the other, so that could take quite a few months. It would be unlikely but not impossible for it to be done before the end of the year.”

Any proposed amendments would likely be put up for public comment, but Catania said any opposition to the amendments would be unlikely to have an impact in passing the amendments due to the government’s “commitment” to passing legislation.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is currently conducting an inquiry into reforms to Australia’s interception and security legislation, including the Telecommunications Act 1997.

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