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;
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:
personal position for a Panel Session at the A.C.S. Canberra Branch
Conference on 20 April 1996;
I've made a couple of submissions to the successive governmental and
parliamentary enquiries. They're in the relevant places below.
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
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
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:
the new federal government's position was equivocal:
on the one hand, it appeared to be awaiting the outcomes of the ABA's
on the other, the Standing Committee of Commonwealth and State
Attorneys-General (SCAG) agreed in Darwin in March 1996 to an offer by
N.S.W. Attorney-General for NSW to take the lead in developing State-level
laws. This appeared to be proceeding with little or nor reference to the ABA's
ABA's report of 30 June 1996:
the ABA report itself, entitled 'Investigation into the
Content of On-Line Services: Report to the Minister for Communications and the
Arts' . It's large, and has been made available in two forms:
(a four-part series of pages, totalling over 500K. It is unindexed, but is at
least searchable using web-browser 'find' capabilities);
at State level. Most States are at least considering proposals, and
doing so in the context of an attempted rationalisation of Commonwealth, State
and Territory censorship laws generally. With effect from 11 July 1996, it
appears that all Attorneys-General may have agreed that the A.B.A.'s 30 June
1996 report provides the basis for all further developments:
The Attorney-General put out a Press Release on 2 April 1996 - 24 hours late,
perhaps? - committing himself to knee-jerk, reactive, ineffective and
unenforceable legislation to protect our kiddies. The Australian Computer
Society's request to see a copy of the draft legislation or drafting
instructions, and to meet with the Attorney-General or his staff to discuss the
matter were simply spurned. Relevant materials are:
proposal's apparent demise on 11 July, i.e. the announcement by SCAG that
it had rejected the N.S.W. proposal, with apparent acceptance by the N.S.W.
Attorney-General that the ABA's approach should now be proceeded with;
in an entirely separate development,
Australian Federal Police have charged a (now former) Department of Foreign
Affairs & Trade contractor, Mark Lambert, with several
offences relating to possession of child pornography. They've got completely
the wrong end of the stick, because ML, aghast at what he'd found on the net
(via IRC and and a marketing bot, would you believe?!), reported the material
to DFAT, who passed the info. on to the AFP. The story will be available on
the web shortly (and maybe so will some kind of petition to the ACT
Attorney-General to drop the case!!); but we need to publish cautiously
because most of us have at least some degree of respect for, and lack of
clarity about, the sub judice rules. The case is back before the
A.C.T. Magistrate's Court on 15 August
fightback - EPIC (electronic privacy information centre), the ACLU (civil
liberties), the ALA (library association) and other immediately commenced
lawsuits challenging the provisions' validity. Nicholas Negroponte's theory
was that the legislators left it in there to appease the right wing, in the
expectation that it would be ruled invalid in the first case that arose ....;
the Justice Department has filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
(The CDA contains provisions allowing for a direct, expedited appeal to the
Supreme Court rather than via the intermediate Court of Appeals) - according to
EPIC Alert 3.13 of 10 July 1996, and at
France. First, an Internet censorship law popularly
referred to as 'the Fillon amendment' was enacted. However,
3.14 reported on 1 August 1996 that "In a case raising [issues similar to
the CDA cases] brought before a French court, the French Conseil
Constitutionnel on July 24 struck down ... the "Fillon amendment". The court
ruled that placing Internet regulations under the control of the Conseil
Superieur de l'Audiovisuel and requiring Internet service providers to take the
advice of the CSA was a violation of free speech rights". According to another
press report, "only one section remains in the censored law: it obliges ISPs to
give their clients "technical means" to forbid or select access to online
services, software that allows a so-called "parental control". Nice result.
leads the world, and has enacted stifling regulations, which came into
force on 11 July 1996. These include:
From the Class Licence Scheme document: "SBA [the Singapore Broadcasting
Authority, which administers the scheme] recognises that it would be impossible
to actively monitor the Internet to pre-censor objectionable sites. As such,
ISPs will only be required to block out objectionable sites as directed by SBA.
For services that involve subscription, such as newsgroups, ISPs will be
required to exercise judgement on which services to subscribe to, in accordance
with SBA's Content Guidelines (see Annex C). The vast number of sites and the
dynamic nature of Internet makes it impossible to achieve full control at the
IASP level. SBA encourages other ISPs to supplement the IASP controls with
additional controls at their networks. Localised Internet Service Providers
and parents are encouraged to use softwares such as NetNanny, Surfwatch,
CyberPatrol or Net Shepherd to guard against access to objectionable materials.
SBA encourages the development of such access control devices. As an
additional measure to protect young Internet users, schools, libraries and
other ISPs which provide Internet access to children are required to institute
a tighter level of control. SBA is presently working with the Ministry of
Education and National Library Board to identify options for implementing an
acceptable level of control".
A subsequent communique from SingNet, Singapore's main Internet Service
Provider, stated that "ALL SingNet customers will be required to connect to
SingNet's proxy server by the deadline September 14th 1996, failing which you
would not be able to access the web without the proxy. This applies to all
dial-up, ISDN, and leased line customers (STIX customers are exempted). " The
proxy server will ease [cause?] the ISP to "Deny access to blacklisted sites
supplied by SBA". SingNet said that "Access to sites banned by the SBA will
prompt the message : The site you requested is not accessible For more
information on Singapore's Internet regulation, please check
A Sydney Morning Herald report of 6 September appeared to have raised the
white flag of surrender, saying that failure by any of Singapore's 120,000
Internet users to adjust their software by 15 September so that requests are
routed via the "government-controlled" [sic: government-approved]
proxy-servers "will lead to prosecution and a heavy fine". I suggest that
should read "will risk" rather than "will lead to" - they have to find them
fightback has been launched, based at the WELL in SFO. But of course
Singaporeans won't be able to read it ...
Robin Whittle expressed the situation beautifully in an email to link on 8
September: "While the threat to freedom of communications is serious, I doubt
that history will judge this as anything more than a symbolic attempt to impose
centralised thinking on a communication system which naturally supports
diversity - and multiple protocols and physical paths for a growing variety of
activities. The more the Singaporean authorities try to make their content
barriers effective, the more they will restrict the academic and business use
which is vital to their economy. On the other hand, they may leave the
ineffective barriers there as a symbol of the *official* intent of Singaporean
civilisation. Meanwhile the mice will play. In time the government may well
abandon the thing - claiming, with some justification, that it did whatever it
could to protect (its *official* view of) Singaporean culture.
China is reported to have created Internet regulations
aimed at controlling data traffic and urges netizens to declare themselves to
the authorities, They have approved the Singapore Act and an official was
quoted as saying, "China has a lot to learn from Singapore's experience"
(source : Fight-censorship mailing list, via a posting to cypherpunks).
Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on 6 September 1996 (and ABC
Radio followed up on 10 September) to the effect that "up to 100 sites"
(whatever that means) are being blocked by China, including CNN, The Washington
Post, NYT, WSJ (and presumably SMH, since that article appeared ...), plus "a
number of sites run in Taiwan, sites seen to be sympathetic to the Dalai Lama,
and anything related to the activities of Chinese dissidents" (oh, yes, and
Playboy). This is able to be done because the Ministry of Posts and
Telecommunications controls China's two gateways to the Internet.
Good luck, fellers; you're going to have a lot of trouble holding that
line. Then again, given that the PC destroyed the Soviet Union, it's only
reasonable that the Internet should apply the coup de grace to the current
Chinese regime. (Oh, alright, that's hyperbole; but it's not groundless).
Indonesia is reported to have detained a democracy
activist after he posted a message to an Internet mailing list;
the United Kingdom, if London's 'Sunday Observer' is to
be believed. An extract of current over-reaction there is provided by
For further details, see
Myanmar/Burma has been reported as making it an offence
to have the means to access the Internet.
filtering on the web:
Broadly speaking, there are two ways that content filtering can be performed:
delegated censorship. You can depend on a site that has
pre-filtered, either by blocking access to a defined set of sites, or by
permitting access to a defined set of sites. In either case, you're very
likely to be relying on someone else's blocking or selection criteria. This
would generally be done on a service-provider's machine, but could be done on
your own workstation; or
personal censorship. You can perform select-in or
select-out based on your own criteria, depending on someone's classification of
material. Naturally you need to be satisfied that the classification is
properly done. This would generally be done on your own workstation, but could
be done on a service-provider's machine.
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:
Now that you've been warned, here are some 'delegated censorship'
("Cyber Patrol's CyberNOT list is twice as comprehensive as competitive lists,
blocking OVER 9,000 Internet resources! [plus] Cyber Patrol's CyberYES list -
researched Internet sites containing only appropriate material for children!"
... and provided free of charge to its users by Compuserve and Prodigy);
(but be warned: at 21 July 1996, this was one of the largest and very worst
home-page designs I've ever seen);
And if you're trying to inter-relate these proposals with existing
Australian law, you'll want to look at
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:
Platt's book, 'Anarchy Online', which "examines netporn in more detail and
depth than has been achieved elsewhere. [He concludes] that although a genuine
problem does exist, a 'war on porn' will be as damaging, expensive,
unsuccessful, and divisive as the 'war on drugs'".
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.