Australian eSafety Commissioner directs ISPs to keep Christchurch attack blocks

Eight sites to be blocked for the next six months, with the block to be lifted if video is removed.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The Australian eSafety Commissioner on Monday issued a direction to the nation's "largest" internet service providers (ISPs) to continue blocking websites that host the video of the Christchurch terrorist attack.

The direction is aimed at eight unnamed sites, and will require ISPs to block the sites for six months. During that period, the eSafety Commissioner will review the list when the video is taken down.

In the immediate wake of the attack, a video of it was viewed around 4,000 times and took 29 minutes before it was finally reported, Facebook said previously.

Despite its removal, approximately 1.5 million copies of the video sprung up on the network in the first 24 hours after the attack. However, only approximately 300,000 copies were published as over 1.2 million videos were blocked at upload.

"Australian internet service providers acted quickly and responsibly in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Christchurch in March this year to block websites that were hosting this harmful material," Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said.

"ISPs called on the government to provide them with certainty and clarity in taking the action they did, and today, we are providing that certainty."

The move was welcomed by the Communications Alliance, which added that telcos blocked 40 sites of their own accord after the attack.

"Australia's major ISPs stepped up quickly after the Christchurch attacks and, of their own accord, blocked access to websites that were hosting the terror-related material," Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton said.

"Industry recognised that this was the right thing to do, without explicit government direction, and we are pleased to see the framework that is now in place as a result of constructive collaboration between industry, government, and its agencies."

Last month, the government said it would create a content blocking regime for crisis events, with the eSafety Commissioner set to gain the power to force the nation's telcos to block certain content.

"The shocking events that took place in Christchurch demonstrated how digital platforms and websites can be exploited to host extreme violent and terrorist content," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at the time.

"That type of abhorrent material has no place in Australia and we are doing everything we can to deny terrorists the opportunity to glorify their crimes, including taking action locally and globally."

The government will also establish a 24/7 Crisis Coordination Centre to inform government agencies of "online crisis events" and aid the eSafety Commissioner to make a "rapid assessment" during such situations.

The new rules were recommended by the Taskforce to Combat Terrorist and Extreme Violent Material Online, which includes Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, Telstra, Vodafone, Optus, and TPG.

The government said the taskforce will provide a a detailed implementation plan to government by the end of September.

In May, 18 nations -- Australia, Canada, European Commission, France, Germany, Indonesia, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Senegal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom -- and eight tech companies -- Amazon, Daily Motion, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Qwant, Twitter, and YouTube -- signed up to the Christchurch Call to attempt to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online, and stop the internet from being used as a tool for terrorists.

The United States did not sign up to the Call.

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