No silver bullet for online porn says Australian eSafety Commissioner

She said Australia should look to the successes and failures of the now-paused attempt by United Kingdom before introducing its own.

No silver bullet for online porn says Australian eSafety Commissioner She said Australia should look to the successes and failures of the now-paused attempt by United Kingdom before introducing its own.

Australia is hoping to introduce some sort of protective capability to prevent those that are underage from viewing pornography or partaking in online gambling activities, with the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs having been charged with looking into the matter.

The committee will probe "the potential benefits of further online age verification requirements, including to protect children from potential harm, and business and non-government organisations from reputation, operational and legal risks".

As of Tuesday morning, the committee has received 69 submissions mostly from individuals or organisations such as the Australian Christian Churches.

Facing Senate Estimates on Tuesday morning, Australia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant pointed to a similar project undertaken in the United Kingdom that has been abandoned, saying the nation would look to the successes and failures of that attempt.

See also: Opinion: UK porn block collapses and I couldn't be happier about it

"Age verification has been a technology protection that's been discussed widely -- actually for about 12 years, when I was with Microsoft we tried to run an age verification pilot in Australia. It's not a silver bullet technology solution, it requires a complex set of processes and it's an ecosystem question," she said.

"We've been keeping a watching brief and close communications with the age verification regulator in the UK, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), to follow what they're doing. Our intention ... is to look at what we can learn from that process and what can be done here, but be realistic about the need to balance a range of factors and make sure that we have the right ecosystem in place.

"We need to be realistic up front about what an age verification system or scheme could achieve and what could be the potential drawback."

Expanding on what the UK did, Inman Grant said the BBFC was planning on negotiating with the world's largest porn conglomerate around their age verification technologies. She said one idea was to use a credit card as the token.

"Credit cards weren't really developed for that purpose and there was a concern that there would be a honeypot of personal information that could create a different set of risks for children," she said.

"So we would need to look at the technical aspects, the environmental aspects, making sure the policies are right -- there's a broad spectrum of issues.

"I think we learn we look at what's in the realm of the possible and we provide to the inquiry our best assessment of what can and can't be done."

With an increasing remit, Inman Grant said her office's primary goal will be to get violent and abusive images and video taken down.

She said that by working collaboratively with social media sites, her team has been able to remove such content "very expeditiously".

"With youth-based cyber bullying for instance, it almost always happens within a day -- but sometimes as quickly as within 30 minutes. And we have a 100% compliance rate, so we haven't had to use our formal powers," she said.

Where image-based abuse is concerned, the office has had a 90% success rate in terms of taking down intimate images and videos from more than 150 different overseas platforms.

The eSafety Commissioner's office has performed 16,000 investigations into child sexual abuse and illegal content so far this year, and is expecting the annual total to be a 50% increase from last year.

It is also having some success with the abhorrent violent material.

"A 75% strike rate, but we're talking about abhorrent sites that revel and in gore and violence, so we're making progress," she said. "We are one small agency in one country. These are global issues that require global solutions and partnerships and that's why we are indeed trying to build partnerships with other organisations and like-minded countries."

Shortly after the Christchurch terrorist attack, eSafety was delegated the power to help keep Australians protected from similar abhorrent violent material (AVM). Specifically, it was given the power force the nation's telcos to block certain content that includes violent terrorist acts, torture, murder, rape, or kidnapping.

"Our Cyber Corp investigative unit has received more than 500 reports about AVMs since the legislation commenced in April. While the vast majority of it -- in fact 93% -- represents child penetrative rape or child sexual abuse where we use our online content scheme to address, another 7% has dealt with violent extremism," Inman Grant explained.

"We've now issued 16 notices to the worst of the worst underground sites, all hosted overseas, sites that revel in gore and violence, and many of which we've been following for a long time that host child sexual abuse material."

The 16 notices were issued against eight pieces of content.

"We're not only going to the content providers themselves, we're going upstream to the hosting provider ... and thus far we've had a 75% success rate with six of these abhorrent sites taking down the content," she added.

See also: Australian eSafety Commissioner directs ISPs to keep Christchurch attack blocks

"If they're building the online roads they need to ensure that these are safer pathways for their billions of users, so we're calling on these companies to assess risk at the front end and to bake in safety at the get-go, rather than retroactively bolting on safety protections after the damage has been done," Inman Grant said.

"We've consulted for over a year with more than 60 organisations, including the platforms themselves."

The commissioner said she has been really impressed with the uptake of this by Google, Facebook, and Snap.

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