Introduction: The internet and the law

This chapter covers the most common legal issues that affect users of the internet, such as:



harassment and stalking;

privacy infringement;

consumer protection.

Key terms




internet service provider


A company that offers access to the internet

internet content host


Provides websites

internet protocol address

IP address

An IP address identifies the particular device that is connected to the internet. Every device that uses the internet has a unique IP address.

uniform resource locator


A web address; also known as a domain name

web server

The hardware and related software that are connected to the telecommunications network and form the internet. Web servers host websites, social media platforms, and can store data.

What exactly is the internet?

The internet is a network of computers and similar devices that are linked together through the telecommunications network. No one owns the internet and it has no central location or administration.

The internet allows all connected devices to exchange and share data. Most users connect to the internet through an internet service provider.

Devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets and computers) that have a web browser installed allow the user to retrieve webpages that are located on a web server.

The three types of people or organisations involved in creating and providing content on the internet are:

1 the content provider, who creates the material, which is then uploaded onto a website;

2 the internet content host (ICH), who provides the website and has control over what is uploaded (i.e. published); cloud hosting services are a type of internet content hosting service that use multiple connected servers and enable greater accessibility than a single host server;

3 the internet service provider (ISP), who supplies internet carriage services so that the material can be transmitted to individual computers, and then viewed and downloaded.

Legal issues relating to the internet: a summary

Legal issues relating to the internet can be divided into three main areas of internet use:

1 Publishing information or providing content including text, sound, images and film (e.g. Internet Protocol Television, where television services are delivered using the internet instead of being delivered through free-to-air, satellite and pay, or cable platforms);

2 Selling goods and services, known generally as e-commerce; and

3 Communicating and networking via email and related services (e.g. Twitter, Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP) like Skype), and via social networking sites (e.g. Facebook).

These uses of the internet raise many legal issues including copyright, consumer protection, prohibited content, defamation and privacy.

This chapter deals with the law from the perspective of an individual who uses the internet to find information, publish material, engage in e-commerce, and communicate with others.

This chapter also offers guidance on managing children’s internet access.

Relevant legislation

Commonwealth legislation

Federal legislation relating to the internet includes:

Broadcasting Services Act 1992

Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995

Competition and Consumer Act 2010

Copyright Act 1968

Crimes Act 1914

Electronic Transactions Act 1999

Interactive Gambling Act 2001

Privacy Act 1988

Racial Discrimination Act 1975

Spam Act 2003

Telecommunications Act 1997.

Victorian legislation

Victorian legislation relating to the internet includes:

Electronic Transactions (Victoria) Act 2000

Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012

Goods Act 1958

Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

Laws of other Australian states and territories, and some overseas laws, may also be relevant.