Industry drafts Net content code

Australia's Internet Industry Association (IIA) has released a draft code that addresses the federal government's call for industry comment on what is technically and commercially feasible in terms of internet content regulation.

According to IIA, "the present version of the code incorporates amendments to bring it into line with the requirements of the Broadcasting Services (Online Services) Amendment Act 1999."

Passed by the Senate in May 1999, the Act established a regime to regulate internet content in Australia.

It called for internet service providers (ISPs) to take "reasonable steps" to restrict access to illegal and highly offensive overseas material, and required them to develop a code of practice to set out those "reasonable steps".

Released yesterday, the IIA's 5th Draft Code of Practice for Internet Business in Australia places responsibility for filtering prohibited internet content hosted overseas away from ISPs themselves.

Instead, it suggests filtering should occur within homes, using filtering tools provided by ISPs.

"It is important to note that the code does not impose any requirement for ISPs to engage in universal blocking of content which the Australian Broadcasting Authority deems prohibited. Rather, it requires that ISPs provide certain classes of end users with tools by which means they can control the access of content in the home," wrote Peter Coroneos, executive director, IIA.

The code does not expect ISPs to absorb the costs of providing such tools.

And it places responsibility for ensuring that filtering tools comply with Australian Broadcasting Authority requirements on content regulation with providers of those tools.

"It has been a difficult task to navigate a course between meeting the broad objective of protecting children from harmful content on the one hand, and protecting the industry from costly and onerous obligations on the other," Coroneos said.

Patrick Fair, chairman of the IIA, said the code represents "the best we can do in the context of the bill and our ability to negotiate with the ABA".

The draft code also covers user privacy, e-commerce transactions, spamming, copyright and fair dealing practices for businesses.

On spam, it suggests "a default prohibition on sending unsolicited e-mail" with the exception of customers with whom an organisation has pre-existing business dealings, or where there is user consent to receive such e-mail.

And it recommends that ISPs should install relay protection "to prevent incoming bulk postings from non-subscribers (which is generally effective against spam originating offshore)".

And on privacy the code takes up the federal Privacy Commissioner's National Principles for the Handling of Personal Information.

IIA has released the code for comment, with submissions welcome until September 30, 1999.

The draft code will then be forwarded to the ABA in early November.

IIA believes the code, developed over the last four years, should be implemented soon, and plans that an independent council should administer it.

According to Coroneos, there has been significant interest in the code from other countries.

"I can report that the level of interest is very high," he said.

"We intend to market this initiative worldwide -- I am meeting with the heads of equivalent industry bodies in both Europe and the US in the next month to see if we can use our work here as a template for internationally consistent and complementary codes.

"Either we are mad to attempt anything of the nature, scope and depth we have done -- or we are world beaters. It has been a hard slog but we are quietly confident that we have provided a lead that other countries will soon follow," Coroneos said.

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