Australia’s minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, announced the outline of new online safety reforms to keep Australians safe online. The proposed changes respond to an extensive review of existing legislation conducted in 2018. Interested parties are invited to give feedback on the proposal and discussion paper by 19 February 2020.
One Single Online Safety Act
Today, online safety legislation is based on two main Acts. The first, the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015, includes provisions to promote online safety, a complaints and take-down system for cyber-bullying of children and for image-based abuse. The second, the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, includes a complaints and take-down system for prohibited and potentially prohibited online content.
The new proposal aims to bring existing regulatory frameworks on online safety together in one single Online Safety Act.
The objective is to:
- Maintain elements that are working well, such as the cyber-bullying and image-based abuse schemes
- Address gaps, especially where current schemes are out of date
- Create a more flexible framework, that can include new online harms as they emerge
- Be able to hold perpetrators to account for their actions online
- Improve transparency and accountability of online service providers
- Enable the eSafety Commissioner to adequately protect Australians online
- Provide all Australians with the necessary information, tools and resources to engage safely online and build resilience to potential harms
The new Act specifically addresses exposure to illegal or inappropriate content and harmful conduct. Cybersecurity threats to the privacy, availability and integrity of data and networks, as well as risks related to online gambling are dealt with by other legislative schemes.
Safeguard Online Highways
“There continues to be a significant disconnect between the expectations of Australians and what is delivered by the internet industry today,” Minister Fletcher said yesterday in a speech, addressing the National Press Club. “A key manifestation of that disconnect is that many of today’s most popular digital products and services have not been designed with user safety in mind.”
He compared safety on “our online highways” to the safety approach in the global automotive market, where international standards, enforced by legislation made by sovereign nations, are met by global manufacturers as they supply their vehicles to global markets.
Platforms Need to Take More Responsibility
Minister Fletcher also urged technology giants such as Facebook and Google to “step up” and take down harmful content faster, referring to terrorist attacks such as the Christchurch shootings in March 2019. The terrorist was able to post a live stream of his horrific acts on Facebook, which was shared over a million times on social media, copied and spread on other platforms in the hours following the attack.
Under the proposed Act, the eSafety Commissioner would also have additional powers to respond rapidly to an online crisis event by requesting internet service providers to immediately block access to sites hosting seriously harmful content or extreme violent material, for time limited periods.
Internet platforms would have a maximum of 24 hours to take down harmful content, rather than 48 hours under current rules. This includes cyberbullying, online abuse and harassment, revenge porn and other harmful material.
Stronger Privacy Settings when Marketing to Children
Games and apps used by children can be conduits for offensive and harmful content and conduct. To prevent children accessing harmful content, a mixture of approaches is needed, including education, information on how to keep children safe online, building resilience and regulation.
The Morrison Government is working with online service providers to ensure online games, apps and services aimed at children set privacy and safety settings to the most restrictive by default.
eSafety Commissioner Seeking feedback
The department is seeking feedback on the proposals for a new Online Safety Act to improve Australia’s online safety regulatory framework. Minister Fletcher strongly encourages those with an interest in online safety to contribute to the consultation process.
Interested parties can submit their comments on the proposed reforms by 19 February 2020.