What a pity there isn't a magic wand that we could wave over the
Internet to rid it of pornography. We could be sure then that nobody,
especially children, would be able to see it. This includes, of course,
the particularly revolting material that investigating officers for the Australian
Broadcasting Authority (ABA) refer to the police.
Instead of a magic wand, it is necessary to rely on a raft of measures
against undesirable Internet content. These include co-regulatory codes,
officially approved software filters, a centre to receive complaints about
content, various sanctions against the providers of prohibited content,
and of course, education - of parents as well as children - about Internet
content and use.
The ABA deals with all complaints about offensive Internet content. And
it has the power to order that offending sites be taken down, or if
overseas, ensuring - in such a way that the offenders are not forewarned -
that foreign police can prosecute them.
The weakest link in this chain is undoubtedly the apparent
unwillingness, or perhaps inability, of some foreign governments to
enforce their own criminal law - or alternatively, to implement what
probably ought to be their criminal law.
A report has just been released by the Australia
Institute that relies heavily on a telephone poll of a relatively
small sample of Australian youths. The report found that a large
percentage have accessed pornographic sites, particularly boys. The
authors fear the results may understate the problem (although it could
just as easily be overstated, especially among young male Internet users).
In any event, they are right to bring this trend to our attention. There
are some sites which no one - especially not children - should be allowed
to see. There are others which only adults ought to be able to access.
Given that Australia acting alone cannot force any foreign police force
to do its job, is there something more that could be done? The Australia
Institute thinks so. But in proposing a solution, the Institute makes the
gratuitous and inaccurate observation that Australia's current form of
co-regulation is virtually useless. They seem not to realise at all how
difficult it was to get even to this point, and that Australia is in fact
a pioneer in dealing with this problem.
There is also the entirely unsupported suggestion in the report that
the ABA is more interested in promoting the Internet than in protecting
children. This is not only untrue: it is offensive. The ABA's principal
concern is the protection of children, which was clearly the intention of
Parliament in giving responsibility for Internet content regulation to the
The ABA is engaged with organisations, both in Australia and overseas,
to protect children. It works through INHOPE,
an international network of hotlines that deals primarily with reports
about child pornography available on the Internet. This network of 17
accredited hotlines links 15 different countries: Australia, Austria,
Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Korea, the
Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Some
INHOPE hotlines are government based, like the ABA; others such as the
Internet Watch Foundation (UK) are industry initiatives; while there are
also community based and privately sponsored hotlines like Cybertipline
(USA). In a six-month period, INHOPE investigated approximately35,000
reports of child pornography online.
Through consultation with both the industry and the public, the ABA has
developed and registered codes of practice to protect the public interest.
It reports on the effectiveness of filters and publishes these on its
website, ensuring that approved filters are made available at cost.
The ABA has also developed a website, http://www.cybersmartkids.com.au,
that provides information for families to help ensure their children's
Internet use is safe and enjoyable. A complementary range of brochures, available
online and in hard copy, includes general Internet safety tips, advice
on choosing a filter, tips for dealing with spam, and tips for safe use of
online chat applications. The site features a young person's guide to
using the Internet, encouraging children to have fun and explore 'cool'
sites, but asking them to remember to be "cybersmart". This
would include, for instance, telling a parent or another trusted adult if
they encounter "upsetting language, nasty pictures or something
scary" on the Internet. The site also features important tips for
parents on safe ways to enjoy the best of the Internet, while protecting
children from the worst. Teachers can use the lesson plan, online teaching
resources and homework tips to help kids be cybersmart.
The ABA has also entered into formal relationships with federal and
state police to ensure the speedy transmission of sensitive information on
foreign sites so that, through Interpol and other avenues, local
authorities can act.
Above all, the ABA warns against complacency,
which can come through too much reliance
on software filters - an
imperfect tool - and it emphasises
the continuing need for parental involvement
and supervision of young Internet users.