Government 'online safety' measures to encompass apps, search engines

Government launches consultation on new online safety act

intro workplace bully hand holding sign with bullying
Getty Images

The government will today reveal details of proposed new legislation that will seek to tackle online harassment, including swifter takedowns of abusive material.

Communications and cyber safety minister Paul Fletcher will use an address at the National Press Club to launch a consultation on a proposed new online safety act.

The act “will put pressure on industry to prevent online harms and will introduce important new protections for Australians,” the minister will say in his NPC address.

The government is not yet issuing an exposure draft of a proposed act, but will begin a 10-week consultation on proposed elements of the legislation.

Some of the measures will include shortening from 48 hours to 24 hours the time in which platforms will be required to take down cyberbullying material or image-based abuse content when directed.

The government also plans to expand the eSafety Commissioner cyberbullying scheme. Fletcher said the government was proposing to empower the commissioner to issue orders to have harassing content removed from a variety of services.

If an overseas-based service ignores directions to take down harmful content, then the eSafety Commissioner will have a new power to request a search engine such as Google or Bing adjust the search results of an “offending page,” Fletcher will say.

“Our plans for the new act draw in part on the practical day-to-day experience of the dangers Australians are facing today – and the reporting to the eSafety Commissioner,” the minister will say.

“It might be a female journalist who has written a story about gender equity in Australian sport – and is subject to extreme levels of harassment, abuse and vitriol from a particular individual across multiple online services. Despite contacting the services, the material remains online.

“Today, the journalist has no avenues by which to have the seriously harmful material removed, other than contacting the police. Under the proposed act, the eSafety Commissioner would have the power to have this content removed from the social media services, websites and apps.”

The government earlier this year pledged to introduce a new Online Safety Act following a 2018 review of existing legislation.

Earlier this year the government introduced new laws to tackle ‘abhorrent violent material’ in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack being live-streamed on Facebook.

In July, the government published the report of a taskforce on combating extremist material that called for legislation to establish a new online content blocking framework.

Fletcher will say that “many of today’s most popular digital products and services have not been designed with user safety in mind.”

“That needs to change,” the minister will say. “We need to get to a point where our online highways benefit from the same rigorous approach to safety we see 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.”

The government is today releasing its Online Safety Charter, which Fletcher says will expand on the ‘Safety by Design’ principles developed by the eSafety Commissioner.

“It is based on the premise that behaviour that is unacceptable offline should not be tolerated or enabled online, and that technology companies have a responsibility to mitigate and address any adverse impacts that are directly or indirectly associated with their products and services.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon