The Commonwealth Government is set to crack down on the use of the Internet for offensive and menacing purposes by outlawing what it describes as “e-crime”, but the opposition is concerned that criminal legislation already in place is only being repeated.
The legislation amendments — that make the use of a telecommunications service to carry offensive Internet content a criminal offence — were announced by Minister for Communications and IT, Richard Alston, and Minister for Justice, Chris Ellison.
The amendments will soon be introduced into parliament, but the opposition is wary of the change.
Shadow Minister for IT, Kate Lundy, told ARN that the Labor Party was concerned about the definition of “offensive”.
“It is hard to ascertain whether this will target new offences or add to existing offences,” she said. “The appropriate place for [Internet] content regulation is with the states.”
Lundy conceded that the proposed amendment could possibly apply sanctions to existing legislation, and the opposition would consider what an appropriate legislation amendment was.
She said the amendment was very vague at the moment. However, the opposition was happy that ISPs and Internet content hosts would be exempted from the new offence where they did not have knowledge of the content of the material they had transmitted or hosted.
The use of a telecommunications service to carry offensive Internet content is not covered by existing provisions. With the proposed legislation, the new offence will carry a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment, doubling the existing punishment.
The amendment will also include people who use the Internet to advocate or facilitate violent protests.
A spokesperson for the Department of Communications and IT said the specific offences that were outlined in the amendment were not covered by the Crimes Act.
“This amendment will complement existing state legislation and give federal and state police greater power to take action against harassment or threats over the Internet,” he said.
Those using the Internet to harass or menace others were amongst those who could be prosecuted under the new offences.
The spokesperson said the new offence would form part of a new package of telecommunications related offences such as possession and distribution of Internet child pornography.
He said the Government already regulated Internet content, but the new offence would complement it by introducing criminal penalties for material that would be regarded by reasonable persons as being offensive.