04 Nov Online Safety Bill – will it achieve its purpose?
You could be forgiven if you missed this. During the middle of the most recent Covid lockdowns the Australian senate passed an Online Safety Bill aimed at censoring the internet and eradicating online abuse, making it one step closer to becoming law.
The Online Safety Bill is to combat cyber abuse by forcing internet providers to remove harmful online content, with a complaints system in place for adults and children to report such materials. Despite the beneficial uses of the internet on social, economic and educational levels, the Bill strives to ensure that Australians can engage with the online world in a safe and confident manner, without enduring threats to their cyber-safety.
What does the Bill do?
In essence, the Bill establishes a take-down scheme for the removal of harmful content from the internet, the first in the world to do so. Victims can also report to police and pursue possible criminal prosecutions for those responsible.
Wide powers are given to the eSafety Commissioner, who can issue take-down notices to the services and to end-users responsible for publishing the content, which comes from a range of online services – games, websites, messaging and hosting services (not just social media platforms). The Bill targets instant removal of intimate images shared without consent of victims and reduces the timeframe for which these images must be removed, following a notice from the Commissioner. Failure to comply with the Commissioner’s orders include 5 years’ imprisonment and a penalty of $110,000.
The shocking live-streaming of the Christchurch terrorist attacks in 2019 warranted a thorough and comprehensive response from government and industry players. The Australian Taskforce to Combat Terrorist and Extreme Violent Material Online delivered a consensus report in response to these attacks to prohibit the ability for terrorists to spread propaganda and acts of hate.
Is the law enough to achieve its purpose?
The Online Safety Bill intervenes to prevent the spread of illegal material, but steps must be made to eliminate this behaviour in the first place. The Bill’s “Basic Online Safety Expectations” apply to websites, service providers, social media platforms, messaging applications and games to increase monitoring of abusive material shared. The parliamentary discourse underlying the Bill mentions the digital industry to step up and actively implement measures to keep their users safe.
These range from prohibiting children to set up online accounts without the consent of adults and ensuring that customers can access a filtered internet service, to educating the Australian public about the cyber-safety and procedures for dealing with online, illegal content.
While some have argued that the law fetters too much discretion on the Commissioner and is too intrusive in curtailing internet freedoms, the Government is putting its best food forward to identify and punish those who have for long periods used the internet as an avenue for abusing, bullying and humiliating others.
The provisions of the Online Safety Bill will enable the Commissioner to unmask the identities behind the accounts responsible, in tandem with internet service providers, social media services and any other responsible party. If achievable, the Bill’s intended purpose will make the internet a safer place for all.