Using the Internet for offensive and menacing purposes, including harassment and the advocacy of violence, will be outlawed as part of a crackdown on e-crime.
In a joint statement IT Minister Senator Richard Alston, and the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, said the Australian government will soon introduce into Parliament amendments to make the use of a telecommunications service to carry offensive Internet content a criminal offence.
It is currently an offence to use a telecommunications service in a way that would be considered by reasonable persons as offensive, or with the result that another person is menaced or harassed.
However, the use of a telecommunications service to carry offensive Internet content is not covered by existing provisions. The new offence will carry a penalty of two years imprisonment, double the punishment for the existing offence.
People using the Internet to advocate or facilitate violent protests, for example by spreading information on methods of violently disrupting international meetings and attacking police officers protecting such gatherings, including those using the Internet to harass or menace others are among those who could be prosecuted under the new offences.
Internet service providers (ISPs) and Internet content hosts will be exempted from the new offence where they do not have knowledge of the content of the material that they transmit or host.
A person who places material on the Internet that urges the commission of a criminal offence may also be caught by state and territory offences for incitement to commit a criminal offence.
The new offence will form part of a package of new telecommunications-related offences which includes those for the possession and distribution of Internet child pornography, targeting people who use the Internet to trade in child pornography.
The package will also include offences dealing with the "rebirthing" of stolen mobile phones which is a practice that allows criminals to circumvent technology that prevents stolen mobiles from accessing Australian mobile networks.
The federal government already regulates Internet content through the Online Content Co-Regulatory Scheme. The new offence will complement this scheme by introducing criminal penalties for placing material on the Internet that would be regarded by reasonable persons as being, in all the circumstances, offensive.
Under this scheme the Australian Broadcasting Authority acts on complaints from the public and can order Internet content hosts in Australia not to host prohibited content.
Prohibited content is material that has been or would be Refused Classification or classified 'X'. Content hosted in Australia that is or would be classified 'R' is also prohibited if the offending material is not subject to adult verification restrictions.