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Net Law Roundup #17

by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer

You might not think that anti-discrimination law has much to do with the Internet. Neither did most of us, until this September, when the Federal Court of Australia ordered the Web site of a political fringe group, the Adelaide Institute, to be taken down on the ground that it unlawfully vilified Jewish people by denying the historical accuracy of reports of the Holocaust.

The law that the Federal Court applied was a section of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act that makes it illegal to publically do anything that is "reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people", by reason of their "race, colour or national or ethnic origin". The Court found that the contents of the Web site infringed this section by reason of their offensiveness to Jewish Australians.

Given that most of us are not Holocaust revisionists, does this case have a broader application? Disturbingly for civil libertarians, it might well do. If you manage a Web site that carries political content, particularly if that content is contributed by other people or is unmoderated, you could be at risk of committing an unlawful act. You would be well advised to read carefully any material that you place on the Internet with anti-discrimination law in mind, and to see a lawyer if in doubt.

Also bear in mind that there is an equivalent piece of legislation called the Sex Discrimination Act, which makes similar prohibitions of discrimination on gender-related grounds. In particular, if you are an employer, be careful that you do not allow any material to be placed on your intranet that could be offensive to employees of a particular gender. Centerfolds in the locker-room have been reborn in a brand new form in today's network-connected workplaces.

Please Note: The information contained in this article is general in nature and cannot be regarded as anything more than general comment. Readers of this article should not act on the basis of this comment without consulting one of iLaw’s legal practitioners who will consider their particular circumstances