Sixteen Bits Online

JULY 1996

PCUG Makes a Difference

by Karl Auer

The following PCUG Press Release was posted to several relevant mailing lists and newsgroups on 10 July, 1996. A copy with a covering thank-you note and a few words of encouragement was sent to Gary Humphries' office also. It's good to see that the PCUG can have an effect!

We urge members to contact Mr Humphries office and express their opinions on these issues; use the telephone numbers given or send email to Michael Keenan, a ministerial adviser, at

PCUG Press Release

Online Regulation

On Tuesday 9 July 1996, the PC Users Group (ACT) Communications Spokesperson, Karl Auer, met with Mr Gary Humphries, the ACT Attorney-General, to discuss the matter of online regulation in general and the disastrous NSW proposals in particular.

The discussion was very fruitful, with Mr Humphries finding merit in the objections raised. Mr Humphries stated that the ACT would not support the NSW proposals at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General to be held this month.

A Press Release was subsequently issued by the ACT Attorney-General's office today (Wednesday 10 July 1996). It is included here for your interest.

The PC Users Group applauds Mr Humphries' measured approach to the issue of regulating cyberspace and approves wholeheartedly of the ACT's rejection of the unworkable, unenforceable, invasive and ineffective NSW proposals. For more information on these issues, see: or contact Karl Auer: (06) 248 6607 (ah) (06) 249 4627 (bh).

ACT Attorney-General’s Press Release

The Complexities of Censoring the Internet

A proposal from New South Wales to regulate internet service providers and effectively make them responsible for what their customers view or communicate to others on the internet is a danger- ously simplistic way of addressing a deeply complex issue, ACT Attorney-General, Gary Humphries, said today. Mr Humphries said that the ACT would not support New South Wales' proposal for model legislation at this time, but instead would call for a more detailed analysis of regulatory options.

It is estimated that close to 50% of Canberrans have access to the internet through home, work, school or university. “Quite simply, it is inappropriate for service providers to be held responsible for the actions of their customers in most cases.

“That's like saying that Telstra is responsible for every four-letter word used on a telephone by one of its customers, or that Australia Post has the responsibility to check every single item of mail sent through its system.”

“Logistically, the New South Wales proposal is difficult. It has been put forward in haste and more work needs to be done, both here and overseas, to determine an appropriate standard for material on the internet.

“The Australian Broadcasting Authority's report on regulation of on-line services is a very good start, preferring to focus on end-users not service providers.”

“Perhaps something which has caught governments around the world off-guard is the speed of the creation of a world information superhighway. This development brings with it challenges which extend well beyond state, or even national, boundaries.

“If NSW is after a quick fix out of this week's meeting of Censorship Ministers, they will be disappointed. The ACT Government will not condone measures which invade the personal privacy of individual computer users to achieve a quick fix.

“Ultimately, the question of regulating what is on the internet is a question which will not be ours alone to solve. But to act alone will simply push problems offshore without actually addressing their cause or the reality that a small number will always try to use the internet for purposes for which it was never intended. “And, as we already know, the internet passes over borders with no regard to different regulatory regimes”, Mr Humphries said.

Media Contacts
Michael Keenan (Minister's office)
(06) 205 0022 office

Stephen Forshaw (Minister's office)
(06) 205 0133 office


by Karl Auer

Well, some initial success has been had recently in terms of making our elected representatives a little more aware of the problems involved in regulating online communities in general and the Internet in particular.

Our communication with Gary Humphries, the ACT Attorney-General, had excellent results as shown by the press release printed on the previous page. In fact the NSW proposals have now been withdrawn completely rather than (as was originally intended) being proposed as a national model.

The NSW Attorney-General Jeff Shaw has been backpedalling very nicely over the last few days as I write this. This success follows on from the excellent news that the US courts have ruled many portions of the US "Communications Decency Act" unconstitutional.

This Act was a truly unpleasant cocktail of loony-tune censorship measures - good to see that the Land of the Free seems intent on staying that way. You can check out the ruling (which is a surprisingly easy read ) at

Particularly useful is the section entitled “Findings of Fact”, which is a rundown on the various technologies and uses to which the Internet is put. It's an excellent lay person's guide to the Internet.

While the actual content of the NSW proposals (see was worrying enough, even more worrying was the fact that NSW refused to release the proposals for public comment! All we had to work with was a leaked draft of the proposals. We sincerely hope that this attitude will change in the future.

By the time you read this, a petition to the ACT, NSW and Federal Governments will have been presented, urging them to reject regulatory options that fail to protect free speech, freedom of assembly and privacy, and to include the online community in the development of regulations.

The NSW proposals were one example of laws that did none of that; no doubt there will be more silly proposals as our fearless leaders work on these issues. The PCUG will try to be in there, educating and guiding along with many other 'Net- based community groups.

It now seems that there is general support in Government circles for the thrust of the Australian Broadcasting Authority's recent Report to the Minister for Communications and the Arts. You can read the report at:

The PCUG and many other groups made submissions to the ABA; unlike the Senate Select Committee last year, the ABA seems to have listened to those voices and has recommended an approach relying on codes of conduct supported by legal sanctions where the codes don't work. Senator Richard Alston, the Minister, has come out in broad support for the Report, and some kind of Federal policy statement is expected very soon.

There are still major faults in the approaches suggested by the Report, but at least it is generally realistic and sensitive to issues such as privacy. The Report will be analysed very closely over the coming months by industry and community groups; it will be interesting to see how things develop. If you are interested in taking an active part in all this, please get in touch by email:

You might like to read up on some of the current shenanigans at:

The various PCUG submissions are there, along with links to other interesting related sites and documents.

Back to July 1996 Index