New laws to stop violent websites

20 August 2003 - INTERNET site operators who incite violent S11-style protests face two-year jail terms under new federal laws to be unveiled today.

The Howard Government plans to make it a criminal offence to urge violence on the Internet. Ratbag sites telling protesters how to arm themselves or use dangerous tactics such as scattering ball-bearings beneath police horses are the target.

An Internet site used to organise last year's frenzied protest outside the World Trade Organisation meeting in Sydney explicitly urged activists to wage battle on police.

Protesters were told to arm themselves with baseball bats, ball-bearings and slingshots.

Current laws don't cover using telecommunications services to carry offensive Internet content.

Instead, it is illegal only to use telephones in an offensive manner to harass people - an offence that attracts a one-year maximum jail term.

Communications Minister Richard Alston and Justice Minister Chris Ellison will today announce proposed amendments to the Crimes Act that will cover the Internet and carry a doubled penalty of two years in jail.

Specifically, the changes outlaw use of the Internet for "offensive and menacing purposes including harassment and the advocacy of violence".

The amendments will also pursue sites which have links to overseas-based sites.

Tactics advocated on some US sites include slashing tendons in the legs of police horses.

The planned amendments are part of a wide-ranging crackdown on Internet crime, including possession and distribution of child pornography.

"The Government sees this as a crucial measure to clamp down on the facilitation of such protests using the Internet, and reducing violence against law enforcement officials being attacked at such protests,"Senator Alston said last night.

The new laws would be unlikely to have led to prosecutions over the 2000 World Economic Forum protest in Melbourne.

Although students were urged to miss school to participate in organised civil disobedience - and the protest turned violent - the laws are aimed at explicit advocacy of violence.

Enforcing the proposed laws will be up to federal and state police forces.

But the notoriously difficult task of policing generally offensive content on the Internet presents a policing nightmare.

Pornography, gambling and music pirating are all activities that have been made easier and more attractive by the Internet and caused headaches for enforcement bodies.

Under the new laws, police will approach Internet service providers to remove offensive sites before pursuing those responsible for setting them up.

Providers and Internet content hosts will be exempt if they clearly have no knowledge of the material being presented.

By MICHAEL HARVEY, chief politics reporter

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