Regulators target Internet porn sites;M;Briefing;International;Millennium trends;New technology

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
Australia. In the second part of a series on global trends, Geoff Maslen finds senators trying to block students' online access to obscene material

A county court judge in Melbourne has called for an investigation into how students at education institutions are able to access pornography over the Internet.

Judge David James was commenting on a case involving a student at a Melbourne technical college who used its computers to download child pornography. The student, Lance Foot, 18, later went to a primary school and sexually assaulted two five-year-old girls. He was sentenced last week to three years and nine months in prison.

The court was told that in the four weeks before the attack, the student used computers at the college to access incest child pornography sites. Judge James said it was of grave concern that such material could be obtained by a student at a college.

A spokeswoman for the college said it was not easy for any education institution to prevent this sort of situation occurring. The college had a clear policy on inappropriate use of the Internet, which included a prohibition on calling up pornographic sites or downloading material from them.

"The technology does not support total prohibition. You can do some token blocking of certain sites but it is not going to be effective - especially for a highly-motivated person," the spokeswoman said.

The Senate established a select committee on information technologies in February and plans to consider the matters raised by Judge James. Senators are to scrutinise the government's decision to establish regulation of illegal or offensive material published or transmitted online. But the proposal to introduce censorship laws to protect children has alarmed Internet service providers and other groups. Service providers - gateways to the Web - in particular have expressed concern at having to block content not under their control. Under the Government's plans, a "Net Watch" will vet complaints about Internet content. It will be an offence for providers to give access to illegal material after being warned and they will have to remove material rated X or refused classification if they put it on the Net for a third party.

As-yet unspecified controls will be introduced for "adult" material to ensure it is not seen by child-ren. The Australian Internet Industry Association has protested to the government about the scope of the new rules while the Interactive Multimedia Industry Association said it would lobby parliamentarians.

Federal communications minister Richard Alston said something had to be done to protect children. "The bottom line for the government is if we don't put in the best effort possible to get some of this stuff off the net, we will be letting down the public," he said.

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