ABA comes under fire over regulatory regime expense

IN its first full year of operation, the Australian Broadcasting Authority’s controversial Internet regulatory regime has failed to impress peak online associations, with one calling it a $2.5 million waste of taxpayer’s money.

The ABA received 359 complaints regarding offensive Internet content hosted within Australia last year and ordered 129 cases to be taken down.

Electronic Frontiers Australia disputes the accuracy of the figures, accusing the ABA of “ramping up” the figures to suggest illegal Internet content in Australia is higher than it actually is.

EFA executive director Irene Graham said the figure was distorted because the ABA was counting complaints relating to newsgroup postings, even though many newsgroups weren’t technically Australian-based content.

“Because these newsgroups come onto Australian ISPs from all over the world, the ABA is treating it as Australian-hosted content,” Mr Graham said.

“We object to the ABA counting this as Australian content.

“They can’t do anything to stop people overseas posting messages into newsgroups.

“Yet they’re spending all this money investigating what’s in newsgroups and telling ISPs to delete the posts, which will be gone in a few days anyway.”

The regulatory regime is a complaint-based system that relies on net surfers to alert the ABA about offensive material. The ABA then investigates the complaint and can require the Australian host to take down the content within 24 hours.

Individuals face fines of $5500 and companies $27,500 for every day the content remains online.

At a recent Communications Law Centre conference in Perth, members of the audience said the number of complaints was negligible compared with the mass Australian-hosted content online.

Melbourne Communications Law Centre lawyer Lillian Kline suggested the community was making use of approved filtering software.

“Maybe the community is not making complaints because they are using the filters or restricting their kids’ access to the Internet themselves,” Ms Kline said.

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