The ACMA

Internet content

Internet content complaints

ACMA Hotline FAQ

Online content regulation

  1. What is the ACMA Hotline?
  2. What does the ACMA Hotline do?
  3. How do I report content to the ACMA Hotline?
  4. How is online content regulated?
  5. What is 'online content'?
  6. What online content is prohibited?
  7. When is online content classified by the Classification Board?
  8. What is the Classification Board?
  9. Can I appeal a Classification Board decision or an ACMA assessment?
  10. What is the National Classification Scheme?
  11. Will the ACMA classify my website to ensure that it complies with the law?

Making a complaint

  1. Who can make a complaint?
  2. What can I complain about?
  3. What can't I complain about?
  4. How do I make a complaint?
  5. Can I make a complaint anonymously?
  6. Will I be informed about the outcome of my complaint?
  7. Can I report spam to the ACMA?

What action is taken

  1. What can the ACMA do about online child sexual abuse material?
  2. What action does the ACMA take about prohibited content hosted in Australia?
  3. What action does the ACMA take about prohibited or potential prohibited content hosted overseas?
  4. Does the ACMA monitor the internet for prohibited content?
  5. Does the ACMA investigate entire websites and whole domain names?
  6. Is it illegal to host and/or provide prohibited online content in Australia?
  7. What is the relationship between the ACMA and police?
  8. What is INHOPE?
  9. Does the ACMA operate a 'blacklist'?

Types of content

  1. What is a restricted access system?
  2. What is child sexual abuse material?
  3. Can I assist in the search for websites containing offensive images of children?
  4. How can I report instances of online child exploitation to the police?
  5. What if I am concerned about someone I know accessing or distributing illegal material?
  6. How can I help protect my children from exposure to offensive or illegal material on the internet?
  7. What I saw online is having a bad effect on me, who can I talk to?

1. What is the ACMA Hotline?

The ACMA Hotline is a place where Australian residents, including police can make a complaint about online content that may be offensive or illegal (such as online child sexual abuse material).

The ACMA:

  • can investigate valid complaints about potentially offensive or illegal online content
  • prioritises taking action on potentially illegal content such as child sexual abuse material and pro-terrorist content
  • can investigate and take action on online content according to the laws in Australia (as contained within Schedules 5 and 7 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.

2. What does the ACMA Hotline do?

The ACMA Hotline helps to make the internet a safer place for all Australians by:

  • directing take-down of prohibited content if it is hosted in Australia
  • notifying prohibited URLs to optional end-user (PC-based) filters—these filters are available from your ISP at cost price or below
  • notifying ALL potentially illegal content identified by the ACMA to police
  • notifying ALL overseas hosted child sexual abuse material identified by the ACMA to the Australian Federal Police or the international community of internet hotlines—for rapid police action and take-down in the host country.

In addition to the above, the ACMA plays a crucial role in cybersafety education (see the ACMA's Cybersmart website).

3. How do I report content to the ACMA Hotline?

You can report offensive or illegal online content to the ACMA Hotline via the online complaint form. If the form is inaccessible, then a complaint may be made via email.

NOTE: If you believe that a child or any other person is in IMMEDIATE danger, please contact the police via emergency services on Triple Zero (000).

4. How is online content regulated?

Online content is investigated and actioned under the laws (collectively known as the Online Content Scheme) found in Schedules 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. The laws aim to address community concerns about offensive and illegal content found online while acknowledging that government, industry and the community all have roles to play in the effective management of online safety issues.

Key components of the Online Content Scheme include the ability for the ACMA to:

  • investigate complaints about online content
  • act on content that may be prohibited
  • encourage the internet industry to develop codes of practice
  • provide advice and information to the community about online safety issues
  • undertake supporting activities including international liaison.

5. What is 'online content'?

Online content is content accessed over the internet including:

  • content on the World Wide Web
  • content on mobile phones
  • postings on news groups and bulletin boards
  • files that can be downloaded via 'peer-to-peer' software
  • live streamed audio/visual material.

Under law, the ACMA is not able to take action about all types of online content. For example, the ACMA Hotline cannot investigate the content of emails, instant messages, SMS, MMS and voice calls, unless they are provided as part of a service that is an adult chat service or a service that specialises in the provision of prohibited or potential prohibited content. (NOTE: if you are concerned about spam emails or SMS, see question 18).

6. What online content is prohibited?

Online content, in certain cases, may be classified by the Classification Board.

Online content that has not been classified by the Classification Board, but is assessed by the ACMA as substantially likely to be prohibited if it were classified, is defined as 'potential prohibited' content.

'Prohibited' content is content classified by the Classification Board that falls within specific classification categories and, in some cases, meets or fails to meet other requirements in relation to access restriction and content delivery.

All online content assessed by the ACMA and classified by the Classification Board is done so with reference to the National Classification Scheme that applies to traditional media like films and computer games (for more information on the Scheme, see question 10).

The following table indicates when classification categories are prohibited or potential prohibited:

Classification category Is content subject to a Restricted Access System? Classified by Classification Board Assessed by the ACMA

RC

N/A

Prohibited

Potential prohibited

X 18+

N/A

Prohibited

Potential prohibited

R 18+

Yes

Not prohibited

Not potential prohibited

No

Prohibited

Potential prohibited

MA 15+

  • not comprised of text and/or still images; and
  • provided on payment of a fee; and
  • provided for a profit; or
  • provided by a mobile premium service

Yes

Not prohibited

Not potential prohibited

No

Prohibited

Potential prohibited

MA 15+ (all other)

N/A

Not prohibited

Not potential prohibited

G, PG, M

N/A

Not prohibited

Not potential prohibited

Category 2 restricted (Publication)

N/A

Prohibited

Potential prohibited

Category 1 restricted (Publication)

N/A

Prohibited

Potential prohibited

Unrestricted (Publication)

N/A

Not prohibited

Not potential prohibited

7. When is online content classified by the Classification Board?

The ACMA applies to the Classification Board for formal classification where the ACMA finds content is hosted in Australia and must issue a notice to remove or restrict access to the content.

The ACMA may apply for formal classification of material in other borderline or threshold cases, including when the content is hosted outside Australia.

8. What is the Classification Board?

Most films and computer games, whether produced locally or overseas, have to be classified before they can be made legally available to the public. Some publications also need to be classified. There are limited exceptions to this rule. The Classification Board is an independent statutory body responsible for classifying these films, computer games and publications. The Classification Board also provides classifications to certain parties for online content upon application.

The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 establishes the National Classification Scheme, with the Classification Board as the body for classification in Australia and the Classification Review Board as the review mechanism for Classification Board decisions.

9. Can I appeal a Classification Board decision or an ACMA assessment?

If online content has been classified by the Classification Board, certain persons may be able to apply to the Classification Review Board for a review of the classification. Persons who may apply for a review include the minister, the hosting or content service provider concerned, or a person aggrieved by the classification.

If you are not satisfied with the way that a complaint has been handled by the ACMA, you may contact the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

More information about rights of review and appeal is available on the ACMA website.

10. What is the National Classification Scheme?

The rules that apply to the classification of films, computer games and certain publications in Australia are known as the National Classification Scheme.

Online content is assessed using the same tools that apply to traditional media platforms including cinematic release films, DVDs, computer games and some publications. Classification categories include G, PG, M, MA 15+, R 18+, X 18+, Refused Classification (RC), Unrestricted, Category 1 - Restricted and Category 2 - Restricted, as established by the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 and the National Classification Code.

Classification of content is generally based on the impact of the classifiable elements of sex, nudity, violence, language, themes and drug use. Guidance on assessing content is provided by the National Classification Code, Guidelines for the Classification of FilmsGuidelines for the Classification of Publications and the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications 2008.

The National Classification Scheme operates under a broad set of principles, including that 'adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want' and 'minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them'.

11. Will the ACMA classify my website to ensure that it complies with the law?

The ACMA can investigate complaints about online content. It does not have a pre-classification role for online content. Where content has not been classified, certain persons may apply to the Classification Board for a formal classification of the content. You may wish to contact the Classification Board for further classification information or seek independent legal advice about the legality of a proposed online content service.

12. Who can make a complaint?

To make a complaint about online content you must be an Australian resident. This includes an individual who resides in Australia; a body corporate that carries on activities in Australia; or the Commonwealth, a state or a territory. The ACMA receives reports about online content from Australian citizens, police and the international community of internet hotlines.

To make a valid complaint, you will need to provide certain basic information about the content. The ACMA website provides further information on how to make a complaint.

If you are not an Australian resident, you may be able to report online content to the hotline or police in your country of residence. The International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE) provides a list of accredited hotlines around the world. However, the ACMA may accept complaints from outside Australia if they concern child sexual abuse material that is hosted in, or made available from, Australia.

13. What can I complain about?

Complainants can complain about content that they believe to be prohibited.

Content that is classified RC and X 18+ is prohibited, while some content that is R18+ or MA15+ may be prohibited if it meets other conditions.

Refused Classification (RC) content includes material containing:

  • detailed instruction or promotion in crime, violence or drug use
  • the promotion or provision of instruction in paedophilic activity
  • offensive descriptions or depictions of children
  • gratuitous and exploitative depictions of violence or sexual violence
  • bestiality and material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

X 18+ is a special category which contains only sexually explicit material. It may not contain violence or depictions of non-adult persons.

R 18+ contains content that is high in impact, including realistically simulated sex, violence and implied sexual violence. (NOTE: R18+ online content is only prohibited when it does not meet the conditions outlined in the above table).

MA15+ contains content that is strong in impact. (NOTE: MA15+ online content is only prohibited when it does not meet the conditions outlined in the above table in question 6).

Full details of what can be accommodated within each classification can be found within the National Classification Code, Guidelines for the Classification of FilmsGuidelines for the Classification of Computer Games and the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications 2008.

14. What can't I complain about?

There are certain matters and types of online content that the ACMA cannot investigate. For example, the ACMA is unable to investigate complaints about online fraud or scams, intellectual property or copyright matters, privacy matters, defamation and harassment.

The ACMA advises people with concerns about other online matters to seek independent legal advice about the options they may have for dealing with the material concerned.  The ACMA website provides contact details and information on other avenues and government agencies that may be of assistance in relation to other types of online content.

If you are concerned for your safety or property, the ACMA advises that you contact your local police.

15. How do I make a complaint?

Complaints must be in writing (submitted via the ACMA Hotline online complaint form) and should include the following:

  • confirmation you are an Australian resident
  • specific access details of the content (for example, a specific URL beginning with 'http//:' or 'www' and any passwords required, etc)
  • reasons why you believe the content is prohibited

Upon receiving a complaint, the ACMA will consider the information provided and assess whether an investigation of the matter/s would be in the public interest.

Learn more about how to make a complaint or, if you meet the above criteria, proceed to the online complaint form.

16. Can I make a complaint anonymously?

Yes, you can make an anonymous complaint. However, if you make an anonymous complaint, the ACMA will not be able to inform you about the outcome of an investigation (and the investigation may be terminated should there be insufficient for the ACMA to conclude its investigation).

17. Will I be informed about the outcome of my complaint?

Yes, the ACMA will inform you of the outcome of your complaint where you have provided accurate contact details. To ensure this is possible, please check the contact details you provide are correct. Please note that from time-to-time the ACMA may contact complainants to request additional information about specific complaints and your contact details may also be used for this purpose.

18. Can I report spam to the ACMA?

If you are receiving unsolicited commercial electronic messages ('junk mail') to your email account, mobile phone, or instant messaging program, you can report it to the ACMA. The ACMA is responsible for enforcing the Spam Act 2003 and actively works to fight spam in Australia. Please visit the ACMA spam page to find out more information and how to lodge a complaint.

19. What can the ACMA do about online child sexual abuse material?

The ACMA Hotline, with the support of Australian law enforcement and our international partner hotlines, is dedicated to pursuing the removal and disruption of access to child sexual abuse material wherever it is hosted around the world. To this end, the ACMA works with a diverse range of domestic and international stakeholders.

Australian-hosted content

If child sexual abuse material is identified by the ACMA as being hosted in Australia, the ACMA directs the relevant host to remove child sexual abuse material hosted in Australia. In all cases, the ACMA refers the matter to a relevant state or territory law police force prior to taking this action. ACMA investigations are suspended pending advice from police that it is okay to proceed without compromising a criminal investigation.

Overseas-hosted content

If child sexual abuse material is identified by the ACMA as being hosted outside of Australia in a country with an INHOPE member, the ACMA reports the content to the hotline in the host country. This report allows the host country hotline to notify police and seek take-down as appropriate.

If the content appears to be hosted in a country that does not have a hotline, then the content is referred to the Australian Federal Police for actioning through Interpol.

The ACMA also notifies all such overseas-hosted content to optional end-user (PC based) Internet Industry Association accredited Family Friendly Filters in accordance with industry codes of practice.

20. What action does the ACMA take about prohibited content hosted in Australia?

If the ACMA finds prohibited content that is hosted in Australia, the ACMA must direct the relevant hosting service to take down the content. Action is taken in relation to an individual page, URL, image or file, rather than entire websites. Under Australian law, the ACMA must direct the content host, rather than the content owner or publisher, to remove the content. Failure to comply with a direction from the ACMA is an offence and penalties may apply.

If the content consists of:

  • child sexual abuse material
  • material that promotes, incites or instructs in matters of crime or violence
  • material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act

it is referred to the relevant state or territory police force and the ACMA investigation suspended pending advice from the police that it is okay to proceed without comprising a criminal investigation.

21. What action does the ACMA take about prohibited or potential prohibited content hosted overseas?

If prohibited or potential prohibited content is found to be hosted overseas, the ACMA refers the specific URL of the content to accredited optional end-user (PC-based) Family Friendly Filters in accordance with the industry codes of practice.

Under the Internet Industry Codes of Practice, ISPs are required to provide accredited filters to their subscribers at or below cost price. These voluntary-to-use filters provide an important additional level of protection to Australian citizens and families wishing to safeguard themselves from offensive and illegal online content.

If the content consists of child sexual abuse material, it is reported to INHOPE for referral to enforcement agencies in the host country or to the Australian Federal Police for action through Interpol.

If the content consists of material that promotes, incites or instructs in matters of crime or violence, or that advocates the doing of a terrorist act, it is also referred to the Australian Federal Police.

22. Does the ACMA monitor the internet for prohibited content?

No. The ACMA does not actively search or monitor the internet for prohibited content. The ACMA administers a scheme that allows members of the public to submit complaints to the ACMA about online content they consider may be offensive or illegal.

23. Does the ACMA investigate entire websites and whole domains?

The ACMA does not investigate and action whole websites. The ACMA investigates individual pages, URLs, images, files, links or streams of content rather than whole websites.

24. Is it illegal to host and/or provide prohibited online content in Australia?

There are a range of obligations under Australian legislation that Internet Service Providers and Content/Hosting Service Providers (also referred to as Internet Content Hosts) should be aware of in relation to hosting illegal and prohibited material, including:

  • reporting child sexual abuse material on their servers to the Australian Federal Police
  • compliance with a direction from the ACMA to remove or restrict access to content.

Failure to meet these obligations may constitute an offence and incur penalties.

The ACMA website provides more detailed information about the responsibilities of Internet Service Providers and Content/Hosting Service Providers under Australian law. The ACMA encourages anyone considering providing content online to seek independent legal advice to determine their responsibilities under all applicable laws, drawing attention to the Internet Industry Code of Practice, Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Criminal Code Act 1995 and the Telecommunications Act 1997.

25. What is the relationship between the ACMA and police?

The ACMA has strong and long-standing relationship with all Australian police forces that are underpinned by written agreements (Memorandums of Understanding—MOUs) between the ACMA and these agencies. The MOUs provide an agreed framework for the relationships, establishing each agency's roles and responsibilities with regard to the other, and clarifying expectations.

In accordance with legislation, the ACMA notifies state and territory police where Australian-hosted content consists of child sexual abuse material; material that incites, instructs or promotes in matters of crime or violence; or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act. Any ACMA investigation is suspended pending advice from the relevant enforcement agency that it is okay to proceed without compromising a criminal investigation.

The ACMA also notifies the Australian Federal Police of child sexual abuse material; material that incites, instructs or promotes in matters of crime or violence; or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act, that is identified as being hosted outside Australia for actioning through Interpol. The ACMA also has an arrangement with the Australian Federal Police, whereby content consisting of child sexual abuse material that appears to be hosted in a country with an INHOPE member hotline is instead notified to that hotline via the INHOPE network for referral to police and take-down in the host country.

In addition to the formal arrangements between the ACMA and police, the relationships are enhanced through joint engagement in knowledge sharing and training events.

26. What is INHOPE?

The International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE) coordinates a network of internet hotlines around the world, supporting them in responding to reports of online child sexual abuse content to make the internet safer.

The ACMA is long-term member of INHOPE and engages with the network by making reports about overseas-hosted child sexual abuse material to the country with an INHOPE member hotline in which the content is hosted and/or where it has been produced, receiving and actioning reports from other member countries, and contributing to policy development and best practice knowledge sharing.

More information about how the ACMA works together with INHOPE to combat online child sexual abuse material is available on the ACMA website.

27. Does the ACMA operate a 'blacklist'?

The ACMA notifies URLs (not whole websites) of potential prohibited and prohibited content to industry accredited optional-end user (PC-based) filters. This list of URL notifications has been known as a so-called 'blacklist'.

More information about the ACMA's powers to deal with online content is available on the ACMA website.

More information about optional end-user filters is available on the ACMA website.

28. What is a restricted access system?

A restricted access system is an access prevention measure to ensure that online content classified or likely to be classified R 18+ is restricted to persons at least 18 years of age, and that certain online content classified or likely to be classified MA 15+ is to restricted to persons that are at least 15 years of age.

The requirements for restricted access systems are set out in the Restricted Access Systems Declaration 2007.

29. What is child sexual abuse material?

The ACMA assesses online content by way of reference to the National Classification Code, which does not use the terms 'child sexual abuse material' or 'child pornography material'.

The National Classification Code provides for the following to be Refused Classification:

Content which describes or depicts in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person, who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not)

An important note on use of terminology:

The Australian Federal Police and other child protection agencies around the world have noted that the use of the phrase 'child pornography' (particularly in the media) can actually benefit child sex abusers as it may:

  • indicate legitimacy and compliance on the part of the victim and therefore legality on the part of the abuser
  • conjure up images of children posing in 'provocative' positions, rather than suffering horrific abuse.

As they state: 'Every photograph captures an actual situation where a child has been abused. This is not pornography'.

30. Can I assist in the search for websites containing offensive images of children?

The ACMA discourages the public from actively searching for online child sexual abuse material and other illegal online content, even if such actions are intended in good faith. Accessing or distributing child sexual abuse material may constitute a criminal offence in Australia.

If you do inadvertently access child sexual abuse material, please let the ACMA know using our online complaint form. Reports may be made anonymously.

31. How can I report instances of online child exploitation to the police?

If you believe a child or other person is in immediate danger, please contact the police via emergency services on Triple Zero (000).

The Child Protection Operations Team within the Australian Federal Police investigates reports of online child sexual abuse that can be submitted via their online child protection form.

Or If you would prefer not to provide your details, you can report anonymously to Crime Stoppers by calling the toll free number 1800 333 000.

Alternatively, you can report online child sexual abuse material to the ACMA Hotline via the online complaint form.

32. What if I am concerned about someone I know accessing or distributing illegal material?

Accessing or distributing child sexual abuse material may constitute a criminal offence in Australia and concerns should be reported to your local police.

In particular, the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 provides a range of offences for the use a carriage service in relation to child sexual abuse material. In addition, each state and territory has laws governing the possession of child sexual abuse material and the definition may vary between states and territories.

33. How can I help protect my children from exposure to offensive or illegal material on the Internet?

There are a range of ways to protect children online and using a combination of tools is often the most effective. For example, parental supervision and household rules for internet use, along with filter software, can be an effective combination in managing children's access to the internet. The ACMA's Cybersmart website provides resources and practical advice for parents, teachers, guardians and children to help them navigate the online world safely.

To comply with registered Internet Industry Codes of Practice, Internet Service Providers are required to make end-user (PC-based) filter software available at or below cost price to their subscribers. The filter products have been accredited by the Communications Alliance (CA) as meeting certain requirements and at a minimum (and importantly) receive updated lists of URLs resolving to prohibited and illegal content from the ACMA.

The CA also has a Family Friendly ISP Program where ISPs who are compliant with the codes of practice may apply for 'CA Family Friendly ISP' status, and if successful, are authorised to display the CA Family Friendly ISP seal. To find out if your Internet Service Provider is 'Family Friendly' look for the CA Family Friendly Seal. 

34. What I saw online is having a bad effect on me, who can I talk to?

If you are 25 or under, you may wish to contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. The Kids Helpline is a free private telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between five and 25. If you are over 25, you may wish to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Lifeline provides free 24-hour crisis counselling and information about support services.

For further information about the ACMA Hotline or to make a complaint about online content, see:

acmahotlinelogo jpg

Last updated: 08 December 2014

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