Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft
19 April 2000
Internet content complaints scheme - the first 3 months
In the first three months of Internet content complaint investigation, the Australian Broadcasting Authority issued final take-down notices for 31 items of Australian-hosted content, referred 45 items of content to the makers of filtering software products and referred 7 items of content to law enforcement agencies.
"The establishment of the ABA’s online-hotline for Internet content complaints means that Internet users in Australia can now have their complaints about offensive material investigated. The ABA is working with the Internet industry and the community advisory body NetAlert to help ensure that people’s use of the Internet is a positive experience and that children, in particular, are protected from material that is unsuitable for them," said Professor David Flint, ABA Chairman.
"Nevertheless, parents and others responsible for the care and supervision of children should maintain vigilance in relation to the use of the Internet by children. The ABA’s role complements and supplements that of parents, teachers and service providers."
The ABA's online-hotline for Internet content complaints commenced operation on 1 January 2000. As at 31 March 2000, investigations into 99 of the 124 complaints received by the ABA had been finalised and investigations into 23 complaints were underway. Two complaints were not investigated as the ABA was of the view that they were not made in good faith.
Thirty-five investigations located items of prohibited or potentially prohibited content and the ABA took action accordingly. For prohibited or potentially prohibited content hosted in Australia, the ABA issues take-down notices to the content host, while for such content hosted outside Australia, the ABA refers the material to the makers of approved filtering software products and, where appropriate, refers the content to law enforcement agencies.
The referral of content to the makers of approved filtering software products is provided for in industry codes of practice developed by the Internet Industry Association (IIA). The codes are a central component of the co-regulatory scheme and provide certainty for industry participants as to their obligations under the scheme, as well as informing users of what they can expect from their providers.
"The ABA’s functions under the scheme include monitoring the operation of industry codes of practice and conducting community education and research, as well as undertaking international liaison. These functions are critical to the overall success of the co- regulatory scheme and the ABA is pursuing initiatives in each of these areas," said Professor Flint.
Members of the public may complain to the ABA about Internet content that is, or may be, prohibited by law. The online content legislation defines Internet content as stored information that is accessed over an Internet carriage service, including material on the World Wide Web, postings on newsgroups and bulletin boards, and other files that can be downloaded from an archive or library. Under the legislation, the definition of Internet content does not include ordinary email or information that is accessed in real time without being previously stored, such as chat services and voice over the Internet.
The legislation sets out different procedures for dealing with prohibited or potentially prohibited content hosted in Australia and such content hosted outside Australia. If the content is likely to be classified RC or X and the content is hosted in Australia, the ABA issues an interim take-down notice to the content host, pending classification of the content by the Classification Board. Where the Classification Board confirms that the content is prohibited, a final take-down notice is issued.
In relation to content likely to be classified R (hosted in Australia and not subject to an adult verification mechanism), the process is slightly different in that an interim take-down notice is not issued. Rather the content host is advised of the decision to ask the Classification Board for a classification. This gives the host the opportunity, in conjunction with the content provider, to put in place an adult verification mechanism that meets minimum requirements set by the ABA. Where this occurs, a take-down notice would not be issued.
In response to complaints about content hosted outside of Australia, where the ABA is satisfied that the content is likely to be classified RC or X, the ABA refers the content to the makers of ‘approved’ filtering software in accordance with provisions in the Internet Industry Association (IIA) codes of practice. The makers of the filtering software products update their products as appropriate so that those users with one of the products installed and activated, will have that content filtered from their future Internet access. Internet service providers (ISPs) play their part by providing filtering software to their users in accordance with the IIA codes.
Approved filtering software products include client-side filter products and filtered Internet services. The IIA codes list 16 approved filters that were included following qualitative assessment by the CSIRO. While it is the responsibility of ISPs to provide a filter to their users, it is the responsibility of users to install, activate and regularly update the product. Parents and carers of children who wish to manage their children’s access to Internet content have an important role to play in this regard.
Other provisions in the codes deal with a range of customer advice and content management issues. These include procedures for ensuring online accounts are not provided to children without the consent of a parent or responsible adult, for creating awareness about the way to make a complaint about Internet content, and for informing producers of Internet content of their legal responsibilities in relation to that content.
In addition to the above procedures for dealing with prohibited or potentially prohibited content, it is important to note that in particularly serious cases, eg. investigations that locate child pornography, the appropriate law enforcement agency is notified at the earliest possible opportunity.
The complaint investigation component of the Government’s co- regulatory scheme for Internet content commenced operation on 1 January 2000. As at the end of the third month of operation (c.o.b. 31 March 2000), the ABA had received 124 formal complaints.
Investigations into 71 of the 124 complaints had been completed. A summary of the outcome of these investigations is provided below. A further 28 had been terminated, as the ABA did not have sufficient information to conclude the investigation. Two complaints were not investigated as the ABA concluded that they were not made in good faith. Investigations into the remaining 23 complaints were underway as at 31 March 2000.
Outcome of investigations
Table 1 provides a summary of the outcome of completed investigations. Half the investigations resulted in the location of prohibited or potential prohibited content, while the other half did not. Most of the investigations that resulted in the ‘not prohibited’ finding were in relation to content hosted in Australia.
In total, 36 of the investigations were in relation to Australian- hosted content, while 35 were in relation to content hosted outside Australia. All but two of the investigations involved WWW content. The two that did not were complaints about newsgroup articles.
Table 1: Outcome of Completed Investigations
Australia Outside Aus Total Not Prohibited or Potentially Prohibited Content 27 9 36 Prohibited or Potentially Prohibited Content 9 26 35 Total 36 35 71
Action arising from completed investigations
As indicated in Table 2, action arising from the 71 completed investigations included:
23 items of Australian-hosted content subject to final take-down notices as a result of RC (refused classification) classification by the Classification Board (predominantly content of a sexual nature with ‘underage connotations’); 3 items subject to final take-down notices as a result of X classification by the Classification Board; 5 items subject to final take-down notices as a result of R classification in combination with the lack of a restricted access system; 45 items of content hosted outside Australia referred to the makers of approved filters; and 7 items of content referred to appropriate law enforcement agencies.
Table 2: Action Arising from Completed Investigations
Australian Hosted Items* R Classified (restricted access system not implemented – final take-down notice issued) 5 X Classified (final take-down notice issued) 3 RC Classified (final take-down notice issued) 23
Hosted Outside Australia Items* Prohibited or Potential Prohibited (X) – referred to makers of approved filters 10 Prohibited or Potential Prohibited (RC) – referred to makers of approved filters # 35 Referral to Police 7
* Some items were the subject of more than one complaint while some complaints resulted in the investigation of a number of items.
# 17 of these items were originally Australian-hosted content subject to final take-down notices that subsequently moved to a content host outside Australia.
In terms of country of origin of prohibited/potential prohibited content hosted outside Australia, the majority was hosted in the USA (33 items). The other countries were Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Mexico and Russia.
How to make a complaint
In addition to the 124 complaints described above, the ABA received a number of other ‘complaints’ of an informal nature. These included ‘complaints’ that did not contain complainant details or provided complainant details that were obviously false in nature, and ‘complaints’ that did not provide the details required under the legislation.
To help ensure that the ABA can investigate a complaint, complainants must set out:
their name and contact details; the Internet address of the Internet content and any other details required to access it; a description of the Internet content; and the reason for thinking that the Internet content is, or may be, prohibited content.
Complaints about Internet content must be in writing and the ABA has made an online complaints form available at its web site to assist members of the community to lodge their complaint: http://www.aba.gov.au/what/online/complaints.htm
Complaints can also be made by post, fax or email. Internet users wishing to complain can phone the ABA for information on how to lodge a complaint using the ABA’s toll free number 1800 22 6667.