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Ellison to pull plug on protest websites
Sean Parnell and Matthew Fynes-Clinton
07nov02

THE Federal Government plans to stop Australians gaining access to websites used to organise protests.

The move is part of a major crackdown on Internet-assisted crime.

Justice Minister Chris Ellison, acting on a request from NSW Police Minister Michael Costa, will look at upgrading federal powers to block certain websites.

A police ministers meeting in Darwin this week agreed it was "unacceptable websites advocating or facilitating violent protest action be accessible from Australia".

Internet regulator, the Australian Broadcasting Authority, only last week decided not to block access to websites organising protests for the World Trade Organisation meeting in Sydney.

But police ministers are so concerned by cyber crime and Internet-assisted crime they have made it one of their priorities, agreeing to examine new laws and establishing a Hi-Tech Crime Centre.

Senator Ellison, who was unable to comment yesterday, has directed a review of telecommunications offences and vowed to use Commonwealth powers "to the maximum" to block websites.

Mr Costa said the World Trade Organisation protest websites advocated violence against police and similar websites were used last year to rally protesters for the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting held in Queensland.

The Hi-Tech Crime Centre would be run by the federal police, and follows Senator Ellison's decision to give the new Australian Crime Commission the power to investigate cyber crime.

Queensland Police Minister Tony McGrady, advocating new laws to fight Internet-assisted crime, told the Darwin meeting of a recent Internet defamation case where police were powerless to act.

Former Aspley State High principal Ian Isaacs and deputy principal Mary McMahon were defamed in an e-mail directing people to a bogus website.

Mr Isaacs and Mrs McMahon were falsely accused on the Internet of gross acts involving four pupils.

The information was tracked to an address in Victoria but police could not search the premises because the relevant Queensland offence was only a summary one. No arrests were made.

Mr Isaacs, who remains on stress leave, said yesterday he would welcome new Commonwealth defamation laws if they enabled offenders to be dealt with swiftly.

"It's an excellent idea," he said. "It would break through the difficulties of operating across (state) boundaries and protocols which slow the system down.

"Defamation should definitely be a criminal offence in Queensland and there should be jail penalties. It can destroy someone's life."

An e-mail notifying hundreds of students, teachers and parents of the website later spread through the Aspley High community.

Mr McGrady said the Aspley case had been referred to the E-Crime Law Reform Working Party.

While that would not enable charges to be laid, it could prevent similar cases.

State Opposition Justice spokesman Lawrence Springborg said that despite the federal proposals, he would introduce a Private Member's Bill on defamation in Parliament today. It would call for defamation to be an indictable offence with up to five years' jail on conviction.


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