Bland crusaders take on the evils of the Internet

There are very few areas of IT left to legislate but the 'good guys' are at it again, reminding us of the evils of the Internet and why more regulation is necessary to keep those devilish, online villains at bay.

Last year there were new state laws surrounding Internet misuse and earlier this year the federal government took on spammers by introducing penalties totalling $1.1 million per day under the Spam Act.

Now we have the Spyware Bill with the government looking to stem the tide of roaming spyware thieves at large and dangerous.

Of course, while they are protecting us good citizens against Web nasties they are able to keep themselves gainfully employed drafting up rules and regulations to ensure technology remains a friend, not a foe.

For governments, the evils-of -the-Internet theme is a bit like the re-occurring 'law and order platform', a bogeyman that can be pulled out of the closet now and then and makes for a nice, electorate-friendly villain.

Thankfully, most politicians haven't had to jump on the law-and-order bandwagon in recent times, because terrorism is doing the job nicely, thankyou very much.

Who can forget the McCarthy-style online gambling fears pushed by Senator Richard Alston in the late 1990s when he was in charge of the IT portfolio?

His Online Gaming Bill is a living, full-colour example of how governments fend off online ugliness, using morale crusading rather than informed discussion.

But personally, one area of the IT industry that could do with some regulation is the bland fashion sense that befalls so many of the industry's icons.

Is it possible to regulate against bad taste? When was the last time you heard Microsoft chairman Bill Gates described as a 'stylish billionaire'? However, he should fit in nicely when he meets the Prime Minister John Howard later today.

Anyone who has watched the television news in recent times will know exactly what I mean.

We get to see John Howard power-walking down the street in an Australian cricket team tracksuit with white sneakers!

Yes, white sneakers more suited to a failed Gold Coast real estate tycoon of the late 1980s than a Prime Minister.

But it isn't just the government warning us about the perils of technology, Labor opposition leader Mark Latham (another politician with a poor sense of fashion) went mission-critical last week taking on one of the country's most influential lobby groups, Australia's banking industry. Latham recognises there is a very fine line between leveraging technology as a cost-cutting measure and simply exploiting it for shareholder profits and he thinks the banking industry has gone too far.

I have to admit that as a bank customer I can do phone banking, Internet banking, hell, any kind of banking, but try doing some face-to-face banking in a bricks-and-mortar structure.

This practice, considered costly by shareholders, is keenly discouraged by the financial services community. Try taking a stroll to your local bank branch; I'm betting you will still be walking next week because it won't be there. In fact it probably shutdown five years ago.

As a result Latham has pledged to 'legislate and regulate' if the big four banks and St George do not curb fees and charges, introduce mandatory fee-free accounts and provide banking facilities in areas which have lost them.

Labor is planning to audit banking services in areas that have suffered closures and wants to set up a 'community obligation fund' utilising some of the $10.5 billion worth of profits the industry generated last year. Not surprisingly, the Australian Bankers Association came out fighting claiming that new regulations will create new regulatory charges, and guess who foots the bill? That's right, customers.

Is more legislation necessary?

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