Australian ISPs want stronger laws on blocking malicious online content

A taskforce made up of tech companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Amazon, alongside Australian ISPs, has proposed specific laws be put in place giving the country’s eSafety Commissioner more power to block sites sharing malicious and abhorrent violent content online.

This proposal comes in the wake of the Christchurch shootings in March, when the massacre of innocent people at prayer was streamed live and shared online by other sites.

At the time, Australian ISPs began proactively blocking websites hosting the video or sharing the shooter’s manifesto, relying on a vague subsection of the 1997 Telecommunications Act which gives the eSafety Commissioner the power to issue written directives to ISPs.

It was a temporary solution but it worked, with the government hastily passing laws in April that criminalised the sharing of malicious content online. This meant that while ISPs were legally required to take down sites sharing the Christchurch video, there was no law in place to protect them from blocking the sites in the first place.

Making it black and white

Now, however, the taskforce wants more concrete legislation, asking the government to develop a “protocol [that] would set out the arrangements and process for implementing blocks of websites hosting offending content, including the means of determining which ISPs would be subject to blocking orders, the length of time that the ISPs will be required to implement the blocks, and the process for removing the blocks”.

The taskforce report also suggests that the legislation should clearly define whether “the terrorist or extreme violent material is sufficiently serious to warrant blocking action, and to identify the domains that are hosting the material”.

The proposal also asks the government to provide “guidance” on when the protocol should be used by the eSafety Commissioner.

At present, there are laws in place to block sites sharing illegal material like pirated content and child pornography, but the law isn’t enacted too often. Before the new proposal becomes law, though, the eSafety Commissioner’s office has released a statement that it will work closely with the ISPs and tech companies to ensure the legislation works for “all parties” including the end users.

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