Government pulls back on ISP licensing threat

Internet service providers (ISPs) appear to have escaped – for the moment – the need to obtain a government license.

Parliament’s government administration select committee suggested such a resort may be necessary if ISPs failed to come up with a suitable code of practice covering trade in objectionable material on the Internet.

The suggestion came in the course of the committee’s inquiry into a reform of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act, which was partly concerned with means of regulating international trading of pornography over the Internet.

However, Justice Minister Phil Goff, in his latest statement on the reforms, expresses confidence in the ISP industry: “The government (has) decided not to introduce licensing for Internet service providers at this point, due to their generally good level of co-operation and communication with government agencies.” Government puts some emphasis on the Internet in its rationale for changing the law.

“The rapid development of the Internet has fundamentally changed patterns of offending since censorship laws were last reformed in 1993,” Goff says. “The scale of offending via the Internet far exceeds anything that was possible when the laws were concerned mainly with books, films and magazines.” Internal Affairs statistics show about 75 percent of prosecutions since 1996, when its censorship compliance team started going online, have concerned Internet material.

Government has declined to make any changes in the categories of “objectionable” material under the law. In particular, following the select committee’s recommendation, it intends to preserve what that committee called New Zealand’s “unique and well-respected” censorship standards, despite the fact that they conflict with those of other major nations, such as the U.S. and Australia.

InternetNZ’s submission to the inquiry suggested that in view of the Internet’s international reach, some attention might be given to rationalizing censorship laws across national boundaries, as it has rationalized law on electronic commercial transactions.

An InternetNZ working party, including ISP representatives, is still deliberating the long-delayed ISP code of practice.