While Aussies may be proud to be among the first to ring in the New Year, more than a few aren't happy about the impending enforcement of new age verification rules online by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The rules are meant to protect children from online content, but what the Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Act of 2007 actually does is put a serious burden on adults to self-police while making it much harder for online publishers to freely share their work. Worse yet, it's another misguided attempt to make the Internet into a playground for children where they won't need supervision.
Beginning January 20, anyone who publishes commercial content online or for mobile phones in Australia will be required to make sure that adult-oriented content isn't seen by minors. This isn't just porn we're talking about, either: the new rules essentially port Australia's movie ratings over to online content.
Once the new rules are enforced, content producers in Australia as well as Australian web surfers will have to live by these categories:
explicit content is prohibited (X18+, and Refused Classification content);
this was already the case. R18+
content (non-sexually-explicit, but restricted) must be hidden behind a
verification service that checks for ages 18 and up. So-called
"mature audience" (MA15+) content must also be hidden behind a
verification service that checks for ages 15 and up. The ACMA will use "take down," "service cessation" and "link deletion" notices to force publishers to remove content or access to content that is the
subject of a complaint.
One reader who contacted Ars lamented the fact that adults will have to give up a little privacy to be in compliance, too. Users will prove their age by supplying their full names and either a credit card or digital signature approved for online use. Content publishers are even required by law to keep records of who accessed R18+ content and with what credentials for a period of two years. Of course, such systems are also susceptible to gaming. Little Jimmy only needs to find a willing adult, or barring that, momma's credit card to get online. Identity fraud with a credit card isn't exactly rocket science.
While the law targets commercial content providers, the rules also apply to "live content" services, also known as IRC services and chatrooms. It's also not clear what counts as commercial content: bloggers who turn a buck would seem to qualify. According to documents from the ACMA, the rules apply to "hosting service providers, live content service providers, links service providers and commercial content service providers who provide a content service that has an Australian connection."
One wonders if the rules aren't a complete waste of time, however. Australia cannot enforce the rules in other countries, which in the long run seems to only give Australians an incentive to hosting their businesses somewhere other than downundah.
Sun's cryptic accountACMA