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ACS 'Regulating the Net' Page

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Regulating the Net

Roger Clarke

Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

Revision of 11 January 1997

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1996-97

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This document contains a great deal of historical value, and is on a lot of people's bookmarks; but it is no longer being maintained!

For subsequent developments, and the current situation, it is recommended that you go to the Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) web-site, as follows:

The hot topics at the moment are:

Please help me keep this page up-to-date!


Please advise me of significant links I should add to this page!


The 'cyberporn debates' have stimulated a great deal of activity during the last couple of years. This issue is intrinsically important; but its importance is all the greater because this is the first attempt to impose regulation on the Internet. If this first process and product are sensible, there's a chance that the ones that follow might also be reasonable; otherwise, ...

Okay, so the problems are intrinsically insoluble, because the Internet transcends jurisdictions. But I'm an old-fashioned conservative, and would sooner deny the impossibility of it all.

[Note that this page has been adopted by the A.C.S. as its official reference-page on this matter; but the Society is *not* responsible for the editor's flippancies ...].

If you want to know what sort of biases I bring to this exercise:

The Australian situation

Here are the primary sites I'm aware of and use. I've put them in chronological order, so if you're in a hurry, go to the end and work backwards.

In brief, the running was first taken up by a Task Force of the Commonwealth Department of Communications (which quickly developed a pretty reasonable understanding of the issues), and the Attorney-General's Department (which initially had a lot of trouble working out which way was up, but invested a lot of effort, and by the end of the exercise was much less confused).

The sensationalist media reports about 'pornography in kids' bedrooms' attracted the attention of a (moderately right-wing) Senate Committee. This held (very useful) hearings, and (especially as moderately right-wing Senate Committees go) had a pretty sensible outcome [again, please note: all evaluative comments here are the editor's, and his alone!].

Then the then Minister for Communications for some reason decided that the matter should be handed over to yet another agency, the Australian Broadcasting Authority. Explaining patiently that the Internet is - by and large - *not* about broadcasting had no effect. So, by the beginning of 1996, a mere 18 months into the exercise, a new round of education and discussion was up and running.

The change of government occurred in March 1996. Then in April, the N.S.W. Attorney-General decided that this was a State matter, not a Commonwealth one, and took it upon himself to prepare common legislation to protect kiddies from all that evil. (Alright, ostensibly he was developing a model bill on behalf of all State and Commonwealth Attorney-Generals, but not many people pay much credibility to that claim).

Fortunately, after the events of 30 June and 11 July 1996, the situation has recovered, and it now appears that we may end up with a fairly workable control regime. Read on:

Overview of developments in the United States:

Fate of the Exon / CDA provisions in the Telecommunications Act 1995:

The Compuserve fracas (with German / U.S. trans-jurisdictional elements):

The 'Steve Barnard' Pseudo-Offer of Porn on the Net:

The Situation in State Jurisdictions is not pretty. According to the ACLU (American Cicil Liberties Union) in early July, five states have passed restrictive Internet laws already in 1996:

and bills are pending in several more states. "These laws subject netizens all over the country to a dismaying variety of vague and constitutionally impermissible standards".

Relevant Developments in Other Countries:

Generally, see Declan McCullagh's comprehensive page.

First the ones that make some sense:

Now for the pin-up list of repressive States:

Content filtering on the web:

Broadly speaking, there are two ways that content filtering can be performed:

Let's be blunt: this page is strongly biased towards personal censorship. The main game in town is PICS (the Platform for Internet Content Selection). Here are:

Here is an industry-association proposal, out of the U.K.:

Next, here are some cautionary materials about delegated censorship:

Now that you've been warned, here are some 'delegated censorship' services providers:

Here are some other sources on content filtering:

And if you're trying to inter-relate these proposals with existing Australian law, you'll want to look at the Office of Film & Literature Classification, which is responsible for the restricted and refused' classifications of films, videos, computer games and publications, which are the means whereby the limited amount of censorship that exists in Australia are implemented.

Here's one formulation of what children need from the net:

Some sources on the difficulties of censoring the net:

Some general sources on self-regulatory mechanisms on the net:

Page-Accesses To Date (Thanks to Web-Counter!!)

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The content and infrastructure for these community service pages are provided by Roger Clarke through his consultancy company, Xamax.

From the site's beginnings in August 1994 until February 2009, the infrastructure was provided by the Australian National University. During that time, the site accumulated close to 30 million hits. It passed 65 million in early 2021.

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Created: 1 February 1996 - Last Amended: 11 January 1997 (small revisions of 2 August 1999) by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
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