Government ploughs ahead with eSafety commissioner plans

While Twitter's latest transparency report revealed that the Australian government made zero account removal requests last year, the government still plans to launch an eSafety commissioner to police social media in Australia.

Twitter's latest biannual transparency report revealed that the Australian government made a total of only 10 requests for user account information during the second half of 2014.

The finding made up a tiny portion of the 2,871 total account information requests that were made by governments worldwide during the period, with the majority of requests made by the US, Turkey, and Japanese governments.

At the same time, the report showed that there were zero account removal requests from Australian government agencies in the last 12 months.

These results come in light of the Australian government's plans to launch a children's eSafety commissioner, which will have the power to force large social media companies, such as Twitter, that choose to operate in Australia to remove content deemed to be bullying, or face fines of AU$17,000 per day. The commissioner's office will be set up within the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The commissioner is designed to be a one-stop-shop for Australian children or their guardians to lodge complaints about online bullying content. The commissioner will be empowered to investigate and seek to have the content removed if it is deemed to be bullying to a specific Australian child.

The idea was first floated in November 2012, when Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher released a discussion paper outlining proposals for a way to tackle online safety for children. Since then, the government has introduced the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014.

The Bill is expected to be debated in the House of Representatives this week. This is despite the fact that the Senate Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the Bill, and a report will not be released until March 3, 2015.

"If the Senate Committee has recommendations regarding the Bill, these will be a matter for the Senate to consider when the Bill is debated in the Senate. It is quite routine for a Bill to be debated in the House of Representatives before a Senate Committee on the Bill reports," a spokesperson for Fletcher told ZDNet.

The spokesperson reiterated that Twitter's latest report on how many removal requests the government has made is not indicative of how many online bullying cases the commissioner would potentially deal with.

"Twitter notes in its transparency report that 'Governments generally make removal requests for content that may be illegal in their respective jurisdictions', such as 'defamatory statements', or 'prohibited content', as distinct from cyberbullying content," he said.

"The powers that will be granted to the children's eSafety commissioner relate only to cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child. This is a quite different matter to existing legal grounds for content to be removed (such as the grounds Twitter has referred to). Therefore, existing removal requests give no indication of the extent of cyberbullying cases."

The federal government announced during the Australian Budget 2014 that it will commit a total of AU$2.4 million to create and run the eSafety commissioner's office for four years.