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South African Bill to block all porn

Tier-one filtering on internet and mobile smut

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As South Africa prepares to welcome the World Cup to its shores, plans by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba to block all porn from entering the country suggest that soon the only ball control that its citizens will legally be allowed to watch will be taking place on a football pitch – in front of a crowd of thousands.

In putting forward these proposals, Gigaba publicly aligned South Africa with other notable bastions of free speech, including Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and, er, Australia.

Late last week, he met with the Justice Alliance of South Africa to discuss drafting of a bill that would impose a total ban on pornography on the internet and mobile phones. The Internet and Cell Phone Pornography Bill (pdf) would require pornography to be filtered out at the tier one service provider level to avoid it entering the country.

Such a proposal would have a significant advance on current legislation, particularly the Film and Publication Act, which merely bans pornography featuring the abuse of children. By contrast, the Internet and Cell Phone Bill appears to seek a total ban of pornography on these electronic channels using the far wider definition of pornography provided in the Sexual Offences Act.

According to Gigaba: "Cars are already provided with brakes and seatbelts, it is not an extra that consumers have to pay for. There is no reason why the internet should be provided without the necessary restrictive mechanisms built into it."

He also added: "The Bill is aimed at the total ban of pornography on internet and mobile phones. United Arab Emirates and Yemen already have legislation in this regard. Australia and New Zealand are currently seeking to do so."

Lest readers be in any doubt as to the seriousness of the intent, the latest draft of the bill makes clear that ISPs will need some fancy footwork to escape its consequences.

The Bill proposes: "Any Internet service provider or Mobile phone service provider who distributes, or allows to be distributed through the Internet or through a mobile phone in the Republic of South Africa, any pornography, shall be guilty of an offence and liable, upon conviction, to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, or to both a fine and such imprisonment."

Bootnote

Yemen currently has two ISPs that are alleged to block material that includes gambling, sex education and Christian and other material that could "convert" Muslims to other religions. The UAE is alleged to censor politically sensitive material, all Israeli domains and opinions that the UAE government does not agree with. All voice over IP is blocked.

For such sterling efforts, Yemen has earned a place on ONI's watchlist, while the UAE is merely included in the 'substantial' category. For its role in blocking access to material that has been categorised as "refused classification" (RC), Australia has been in ONI’s 'nominal' category since 2009.

For her work in reporting on issues of a sexual nature, your own correspondent has learned that she is frequently blocked in the Middle East – though not yet, to her knowledge, in Australia. ®

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