New rules seek to shield minors and bolster the country’s already strict censorship laws

January 20 will mark an era for Australian Internet content, as sweeping new rules will take affect that enforce mandatory age-verification on mature or adult-oriented web pages and services.

According to a press release from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), “content service providers” are required to verify and enforce the minimum age of all individuals attempting to access content that is rated according to the Australian classification office’s MA15+ (mature, restricted to age 15 and up) or R18+ (restricted to age 18 and up) ratings.

Telcos are under additional controls as well, as the new rules require age verification by the cell provider on “premium rate SMS or MMS services” and “mobile content portals.”

The new rules come from the Australian government’s Restricted Access System Declaration 2007, which governs “age restricted content” across almost every information medium in Australia. All content, including web pages and mobile phone content, is examined by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) and assigned a rating according to the country’s national ratings system.

Content that is rated above the R18+ rating (namely, X18+ or "refused classification") is banned entirely from the Australian Internet; if that content is found to reside within the country its owner is sent a “takedown notice,” and if content resides outside of Australia it is added to the blacklist on the country’s mandatory Internet censor.

The Declaration makes no mention of how it would handle user-generated content, leaving social networking and similar services in a legal gray area. According to the press release, ACMA will “continue to liaise and consult on these matters” with the industry.

While developing the new rules, ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said that the committee “was guided by its disposition to allow adults to continue to read, hear and see what they want, while protecting children from exposure to inappropriate content,” yet simultaneously acting “conscious of avoiding unnecessary red tape for Australian businesses.”

Australia has long carried a reputation for having one of the most restrictive censorship protocols in the western world. Books, movies, and video games that are rated X18+ (roughly equivalent to AO or NC-17) are heavily restricted in their sale – oftentimes, banned entirely – and content that does not fit into any of the OFLC’s guidelines is banned and blocked from import.

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