Ruling thwarts net porn law

by Chris Griffith
Published 3 Nov 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Queensland's child pornography law governing the Internet is in disarray following a judge's decision last week to throw out a test case mounted by police.

Gregory Ian Quincey, 22, student, of Keperra last week faced the Ipswich District Court to answer two counts of copying child abuse computer games between July 31 and August 4 in 1995.

It was regarded as Queensland's first major legal battle in the war against Internet child pornography and had attracted international interest by Internet regulators.

But it was thrown out of court when Judge John Robertson ruled that the state's Classification of Computer Games and Images Interim Act, which regulates computer games, did not apply to computer bulletin boards and therefore the Internet.

The police case against Mr Quincey was based on some ingenious hi-tech super-sleuthing, because not a trace of child pornography was ever found in Mr Quincey's possession.

The saga began in August last year, when an alert employee working for Ipswich-based company Global Info-Links (GIL) noticed 55 pornographic files on a computer.

GIL is one of many Internet service providers, companies that act like telephone exchanges connecting computer systems around the world with everyday Internet users surfing the 'Net in their own homes.

But like telephone exchanges, it is sometime possible to trace the calls. In this case, the files had come from Michigan University, and according to GIL's computer records, they were bound for a client logged in as "gregq", Mr Quincey's account.

Computer buffs acknowledge it was a freak that the files were intercepted and identified in transit.

This happened because user "gregq" had used an unusual Internet connection which meant that the files he copied were stored at GIL along the way.

Computers usually destroy these in-transit files after they are copied.

In this case, it was sheer coincidence that a GIL employee, David Andrew Ross, had made a backup copy of these files because a breakdown had occurred in GIL's electronic mailing program exactly when user "gregq" (Mr Quincey's username) happened to be on line.

According to court records, Mr Quincey admitted to police that he had copied the 55 files, but said he had deleted them when he realised they were child pornography.

Police proceeded with the copying charges even though no pornographic files were found on Mr Quincey's computer.

Mr Quincey's solicitor, Civil Liberties president Ian Dearden, said it was "outrageous" that police charged Mr Quincey under a law that State Parliament said had not been designed to deal with the Internet.

"If my client had been found guilty, it would have made idol curiosity on the Internet a criminal offence."

A spokesman for Mr Beanland said the possession and distribution of hard copies of child pornography clearly was still illegal in Queensland.

However the downloading of child pornography and its possession on computer hard disk drives was now a legally grey-area following Judge Robertson's decision.

"The Attorney-General will be paying very close attention to the outcome of this case," the spokesman said.

But this legal loophole may be short-lived.

The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General is currently considering a national code of conduct for the Internet industry, and if necessary, will enact national laws.

Victoria has already introduced law to regulate the Internet, and Western Australia is considering it.