Australia passes law penalising social media platforms for violent content; civil society raises concerns re human rights impacts

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Article
4 April 2019

Commentary: Jailing social media bosses won't make us safer from terrorists

Author: Brett Solomon, The Sydney Morning Herald

Unfortunately, violent episodes such as those of Christchurch will happen again and more violent material will likely be generated. Impeding the spread of atrocious, violent content from online platforms is a legitimate concern to inoculate society from the horrors of such episodes. Facebook and YouTube might have been too slow and clunky in response to the attacks, but threatening to put their executives in jail, as the Morrison government is threatening to do, will not make any Australian citizen any bit safer. Instead, it will likely reduce the freedoms that we all take for granted.

... By clamping down on the online platforms that allow for this rich exchange of ideas and information, we will inevitably hit the brakes on an open and free online space. Online platforms will be incentivised to err on the side of censorship... Some governments use broad definitions of “terrorism”, “hate” or “immoral content” to silence critics, political parties, journalists and other vulnerable communities... An open, free and democratic society... needs to allow its democratically elected representatives to deliberate calmly and openly about the rules we need, not rush through new criminal laws in a few days... If the government fails to protect online speech, Australians will not be safer but the champions of intolerance will have won.

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Article
4 April 2019

Statement from the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion & expression and the Special Rapporteur on human rights & fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Author: UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye & Fionnuala Ni Aolain

[W]e would like to offer the following comments on the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Law 2019... which raises serious concerns regarding freedom of expression... [According to T]he Law, internet, content and hosting service providers are obliged to report to the Australian Federal Police the existence of “abhorrent violent material” that records or streams relevant conduct occurring in Australia. The failure to report such material “within a reasonable time after becoming aware” of it constitutes an offense. Offences committed under section 474.33 are punishable by fines of up to $168,000 AUD for an individual or $840,000 AUD for a corporation.

... [C]ontent and hosting service providers commit an offence if they fail to “expeditiously” remove “abhorrent violent material” that is “reasonably capable of being accessed within Australia.”... [This offence] is punishable by up to 3 years’ imprisonment, fines of up to $2,100,000 AUD or both for an individual, and fines of up to 10% of the provider’s annual turnover for a corporation.

... [W]e are especially concerned that the unusually compressed timeline for debating and passing the Law failed to provide your government or members of Parliament with sufficient opportunity to consult with civil society and the public on the complex issues it raises... Ambiguities in the Law demonstrate why public consultation and debate are warranted... We urge your government to, withdraw the Law and to provide additional time for legislative and public consideration of the issues contained in the Law, and evaluate the Law to ensure its consistency with international human rights standards.

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Article
3 April 2019

Australia passes social media law penalising platforms for violent content

Author: Paul Karp, The Guardian

The Australian parliament has passed legislation to crack down on violent videos on social media, despite furious reaction from the tech industry, media companies and legal experts...The Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill creates new offences for content service providers and hosting services that fail to notify the Australian federal police about or fail to expeditiously remove videos depicting "abhorrent violent conduct". That conduct is defined as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape or kidnap.

...The Digital Industry Group, which represents Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Verizon Media in Australia, has warned the bill was passed without meaningful consultation and threatens penalties against tech companies for content created by users.

...The group's managing director, Sunita Bose, said... "This 'pass it now, change it later' approach to legislation, such as we saw with the encryption law, creates immediate uncertainty for Australia's technology industry... It threatens employees within any company that has user-generated content to be potentially jailed for the misuse of their services – even if they are unaware of it."... The chief executive of Atlassian, Scott Farquhar, said that no one wanted abhorrent violent material on the internet but "the legislation is flawed and will unnecessarily cost jobs and damage our tech industry."... Corporate penalties range up to $10.5m or 10% of annual turnover.

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