eSafety defends detail of Online Safety Bill as the 'sausage that's being made'

Details of how the eSafety Commissioner will oversee the Online Safety Bill are still being ironed out.

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A new Online Safety Bill is awaiting its passage in Australia. It aims to protect Australians of all ages from online harm, but many have submitted concerns with the rushed nature of the Bill, the harm it can cause to the adult industry, and the overbearing powers it affords to the eSafety Commissioner, as some examples.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant on Friday faced the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications as part of its probe of the Online Safety Bill 2021, admitting the details of how the measures legislated in the Bill would be overseen are still being worked out.

"This is the sausage being made right now, if you will," she said.

"It's a novel scheme; we're no strangers to setting up novel schemes," she later added.

Inman Grant said eSafety went through the "same conundrum" when developing the cyberbullying scheme, as well as defining what constitutes seriously harassing, threatening, intimidating, and humiliating.

"We're going through the same process now. We're thinking through what's in, what's out, what our standard operating procedures look like, what is the staffing profile that we need to have which may which is likely to be different for what we have for youth-based cyberbullying and then how do we develop -- we're basically looking at scenarios and other experiences that we had," she said.

"And one of my priorities is making sure that we are very clear. And we're setting the right kinds of expectations."

Inman Grant said her office would look at "every tweet, every video, and every post" to determine whether it meets the threshold of serious cyber abuse with the intent to cause harm directed at a specific Australian individual.

"Of course, will have the discretion to take into consideration a range of contextual factors, but this will not be a rapid fire at scale kind of takedown regime, every decision we make will have to stand up to the AAT tribunal and potentially judicial review."

"These new powers will be very targeted, and dare I say surgical."

Asked if eSafety was sufficiently resourced to manage elements such as complaints, representatives from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications said the commissioner was given an extra AU$39 million in the Budget to support implementation of the legislation.

"These are all things that we are thinking about, were actively planning for in the hopes that this legislation moves forward," Inman Grant said, noting that includes thinking about staffing profiles.

eSafety received 31,000 complaints in 2020. The office also currently boasts around 100 staff.

"What we're working towards now, really, about how we operationalise the legislation," eSafety head of investigations Toby Dagg added. "We already have experience in managing the child cyber bullying scheme, and on an informal basis, adult cyber abuse reports."

"The time has come to be very clear with the internet companies about what we expect from them when operating in this country," Inman Grant said.

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