ISPs have 3 months to comply with these new online laws

  • South African ISPs now have just under three months to comply with a set new laws set by the Film and Publication Board (FBP)
  • ISPs will have to supply, in writing, reports on how they are looking to curb offensive material and hate speech for users, especially children.
  • Failure to comply could get ISP owners fined up to R750 000 or a prison sentence of five years.

The Film and Publication Board (FPB) has given 90 days for South African internet service providers (ISPs) to comply with newly announced amendments to the Film and Publications Act.

Now ISPs are legally required to send reports to the FPB on the methods and measures they are using to combat offensive materials online such as child sexual abuse material and other harmful content.

The FPB makes it clear that non-compliance will be severely punished.

Failure to comply with the recent additions means ISPs could face criminal fines of R50 000 up to R750 000 according to a gazette released by the board.

Depending on the offence, ISPs and their owners could face up to six months or five years of prison time.

“ISPs that fail to comply with the notices within 90 days, will be referred to the Enforcement Committee with possibility of hefty financial penalties or imprisonment sanctions as prescribed in the Act,” the FBP stated.

To adhere to the newly changed Act, ISPs will have to “update the FPB in writing” on how they:

  • Moderate their child-oriented services;
  • The steps they have taken to ensure that their services are not being used for the offence against children;
  • Prominently display “reasonable safety messages” in a language that will be clearly understood by children on all advertisements for child oriented-services, like chatrooms;
  • Provide mechanisms to allow children to report suspicious behaviour by any person they may meet online, like in a chatroom for example;
  • Report details of any information regarding the behaviour of people looking to harm children online in any way to the South African Police Service;
  • Provide children, parents or guardians, with information on software and other tools to better protect themselves online.

The inability to provide this information to the FPB within 90 days could lead to a fine not exceeding R50 000 or six-month imprisonment, depending on the level of non-compliance.

ISPs will also have to notify the board of the reasonable steps they are taking to limit the spread of child pornography and the distribution of, “propaganda for war, incitement or imminent violence or advocating hatred.”

Providers will have to report to the FPB how they are preserving this evidence and what mechanisms they have in place to report such offences to the relevant authorities.

Failure to do so within the 90-day allotment could see ISPs charged with fines in the hundreds of thousands of Rand and five years of prison time, but these regulations seem strange to us.

While it is all well and good that the government is seeking to stop the dissemination of child pornography and the incitement of violence, there is only so much that ISPs can control when it comes to where their users go on the internet.

ISPs can block certain websites and restrict certain IPs but as far as we know they have little control over third-party websites and platforms, such as popular chatrooms or social media where offensive media could be shared.

The other problem we have is that the messaging used in the gazette is vague and open to interpretation. This is an issue when possible penalties are as harsh as those stipulated by the FPB. The board’s wishes for further restrictions on the internet for South Africans have been heavily criticised by bodies claiming that it is simply a way to censor users.

The Act comes into power immediately upon its publishing on 28th October, so ISPs now have 87 days to report to the board as of the time of writing.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


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