Friday, 05 April 2019 11:25

New social media laws rammed through Parliament Featured

By
Attorney-General Christian Porter. Attorney-General Christian Porter. Courtesy YouTube

New laws that target social media platforms which allow live streaming and broadcast of violent crimes has been passed by the Australian Parliament.

The laws were passed by the lower house on Thursday on what is likely to be the last sitting day before the Federal Election.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said in a statement that Australia now had a penalty regime against social media companies which failed to remove abhorrent violent material in a reasonable time.

"The tragedy in Christchurch just over two weeks ago brought this issue to a head," he said. Porter's reference was to the massacre of 50 Muslims at a mosque in Christchurch on 15 March.

The shooter live-streamed his rampage on Facebook and it remained on the social media site for more than an hour. Numerous copies were uploaded to YouTube and linked off Twitter as well.

Porter said: "It was clear from our discussions last week with social media companies, particularly Facebook, that there was no recognition of the need for them to act urgently to protect their own users from the horror of the live-streaming of the Christchurch massacre and other violent crimes and so the Morrison Government has taken action with this legislation."

The Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019 defines two new offences:

It makes it a criminal offence for social media platforms not to remove abhorrent violent material expeditiously. A failure to do so would be punishable by up to three years' imprisonment or fines of up to 10% of the platform's annual turnover.

It requires social media platforms anywhere in the world to notify the Australian Federal Police if they become aware their service is streaming abhorrent violent conduct that is happening in Australia. Failure would be punishable by fines of up to $168,000 for an individual or $840,000 for a corporation.

Apart from this, the e-Safety Commissioner can issue notices to bring such material to the attention of social media companies. The firms will be deemed to be aware of the material from the time they receive the notice.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the legislation brought social media companies into line with community expectations and the obligations placed on other organisations.

"Mainstream media cannot live broadcast the horror of Christchurch or other violent crimes and neither should social media be able to do so," he said.

"Where social media platforms fail to take action to stop the live streaming of such violent and abhorrent crimes, they should face serious penalties and that's what will now occur once this Bill receives Royal Assent.

"These new laws also protect the ability of news media to report on events which are in the public interest within their existing licensing standards."

Phil Kernick, co-founder and chief technology officer of cyber security specialist CQR Consulting, said Internet companies should learn to accept that their profits could not come at the expense of society.

"There is a lot a hand-wringing from Internet companies about the new legislation, but it’s time for them to accept that their profits cannot continue to come at the
expense of breaking our society," he said.

"These sort of videos would not be acceptable in any other medium, and would explicitly be denied classification in Australia. Maybe this tragedy will finally end the profit-first people-last attitude that has driven Internet start-ups since the dot-com boom."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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