Industry groups attack government over internet streaming bill

Industry groups have been united in their condemnation of the government’s ‘abhorrent content’ legislation, slamming the lack of consultation and its failure to address ‘hate speech’.

The bill, supported by the opposition Labor Party, was necessary because of Facebook’s lack of action following the Christchurch terrorist attack, Attorney-General Christian Porter claimed.

Attorney-General Christian Porter claimed the ‘abhorrent content’ bill was necessary because of Facebook’s inaction

“The tragedy in Christchurch just over two weeks ago brought this issue to a head,” Porter said.

“It was clear from our discussions last week with social media companies, particularly Facebook, that there was no recognition of the need for them to act urgently to protect their own users from the horror of the live streaming of the Christchurch massacre and other violent crimes and so the Morrison Government has taken action with this legislation.”

Earlier, the Attorney-General had claimed Facebook “had done nothing” to address the Christchurch terrorist’s video being shared until the New Zealand government had complained an hour after the stream had started.

Mumbrella has approached Facebook for comment on Porter’s claims.

The legislation passed the Senate within a minute of being introduced on Wednesday night despite only being proposed by the Prime Minister over the weekend. The lower house approved the bill the following day.

Social media platforms, web hosting services and internet providers are liable to fines of up to 10% of their annual global turnover and imprisonment of employees if they fail to remove ‘abhorrent violent material’ expeditiously.

The legislation also requires social media platforms anywhere in the world to notify the AFP if they become aware their service is streaming abhorrent violent conduct that is happening in Australia. Failure do so could incur fines of up to $168,000 for an individual or $840,000 for a corporation.

‘Abhorrent violent material’ includes terrorist acts, rape, murder, attempted murder, abductions and torture.

Sunita Bose, managing director of DIGI, the industry group representing Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and other major digital platforms was scathing about the legislation.

“This law, which was conceived and passed in five days without any meaningful consultation, does nothing to address hate speech, which was the fundamental motivation for the tragic Christchurch terrorist attacks. In fact, the only legal definition of hate speech we have under Australian law does not include religious and gender-based speech.

“Let’s be clear: no one wants abhorrent content on their websites, and DIGI members work to take this down as quickly as possible. But with the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second, this is a highly complex problem that requires discussion with the technology industry, legal experts, the media and civil society to get the solution right — that didn’t happen this week.”

Bose also criticised the lack of process by Australian governments, saying: “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. This is not how legislation should be made in a democracy like Australia.

Law Council of Australia president, Arthur Moses SC, already a prominent critic of the bill, was equally scathing.

“Media freedom and whistleblowing of atrocities here and overseas have been put at risk by the ill-informed livestream laws passed by the Federal Parliament.

“The Law Council is disappointed and concerned these ‘world-first laws’, which were rammed through in 24 hours without scrutiny and consultation, will have negative unintended consequences,” Moses said.

“We now have a situation where important news can be censored across social media platforms, which is contrary to the democratic principle of a free press, which exists to hold governments to account.

“While the Law Council agrees that action needs to be taken in this area, consultation was required. These laws should have been subject to the committee process.

“When parliament returns after the federal election these laws must be reviewed and amendments
made to deal with the negative impacts they have the potential of causing.”

Alex McCauley, the CEO of StartupAUS, also slammed the bill, saying: “Between this and the Access and Assistance Act, we’re starting to see a trend towards jumping into anti tech legislation in a knee jerk fashion.

“This legislation was drafted and rushed through the Senate in less than three weeks. That’s not enough time to get it right. There has been virtually no consultation, which has led to a poor piece of legislation. Nowhere is this clearer than the fact that the proposed law doesn’t include a public interest exemption — something that is deeply concerning.

In the years ahead, there are many thorny regulatory questions that emerging technologies are going to throw up. We need to be thoughtful and deliberate about how we approach those issues.”

Liberal Democrat Senator, Duncan Spender slammed his parliamentary colleagues, claiming they hadn’t read the bill before voting on it.

“The usual process of introduction, where the bill is circulated to all Senators in the Senate chamber and published on the parliament’s website, did not occur,” Spender’s office said.

“If the bill was not properly introduced, it cannot have been passed,” Senator Spender said.

“It is bad enough when the Government forces a vote on a bill that members of the public haven’t had a chance to respond to. But in this instance, even the Senators haven’t had a chance to look at it.”

“I can also see that the bill fails to ban broadcasters from broadcasting abhorrent material and content. This is either based on the view that Kochie would never do such a thing, or it’s because the drafters forgot about broadcasters.”

Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield, rejected the criticism, saying the world-leading legislation brings social media companies into line with community expectations and the obligations placed on other organisations in society.

“Mainstream media cannot live broadcast the horror of Christchurch or other violent crimes and neither should social media be able to do so,” the Minister said.

“Where social media platforms fail to take action to stop the live streaming of such violent and abhorrent crimes, they should face serious penalties and that’s what will now occur once this Bill receives Royal Assent.

“These new laws also protect the ability of news media to report on events which are in the public interest within their existing licensing standards.”


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