Online predators and social media platforms on Morrison's agenda

The current government wants to bring online crime in-line with offline crime where offences against children are concerned, and will make social media platforms adhere to a new Online Safety Act.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

After ramming Australia's abhorrent video streaming legislation through Parliament last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced further social media platform crackdowns on his agenda, should his government be re-elected later this month.

On the weekend, Morrison said he would have social media platforms and online predators and trolls in his sights under his leadership, in a new plan that aims to protect children, families, and the community.

Major social media platforms would be held accountable under the new plan, with mandated requirements ranging from transparency reports on the number, type, and response to reports and complaints about illegal, abusive, and predatory content by their users.

The transparency reporting initiative would follow work undertaken by the UK government as part of their Online Harms White Paper process.

"We know that technology facilitated abuse is becoming a feature of domestic and family violence cases, and we want to ensure that platforms are taking effective action to combat this abuse but we can't do that without real data to inform our actions," Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield added.

Morrison expects technology firms including social media platforms, app stores, and Internet Service Providers to jump on board to his cause, by working on ways to arm parents with tools to "make their own decisions about how their children use the internet".

Such assistance from technology companies will include ensuring online apps, games, and services marketed to children default to the most restrictive privacy and safety settings at initial use or set-up; that parents have the option of a filtered internet service that, at a minimum, blocks access to sites identified by the eSafety Commissioner; and ensuring that information regarding online safety and parental control settings are available at all points in the supply chain, including point-of-purchase, registration, account creation, and first use.

This would be mandated by way of a new Online Safety Act.

"The new Act will be a single, consolidated piece of online safety legislation that includes greater transparency and reporting requirements for industry," Fifield said.

Where online predators and trolls are concerned, Morrison said online crime would be treated the same as offline crime. If put into effect, this would translate to maximum penalties for certain offences being increased. For example, using a carriage service to "menace, harass, or cause offence" under section 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 would see its maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment be pushed up to five years imprisonment.

New "aggravated" offences would also be introduced as well as sentencing for the worst categories of crime, including aggravated offences for sexual intercourse or other sexual activity with a child outside Australia and offences involving conduct on three or more occasions and two or more people.

Also aimed at protecting children, Morrison said he would introduce new offences such as providing electronic services to facilitate dealings with child abuse material; and grooming third parties using the post or a carriage service to procure children for sexual activity.

"Online trolls have no place in Australia and I promise to bring in new laws to protect our kids and keep our community safe," he said, sharing he understands first-hand how anxious parents feel about what their kids see and do online.

"No one should be subjected to vile abuse and harassment whether they are in the online or offline world.

"We need the law to keep pace with technology and I want to ensure the courts reflect community expectations about the seriousness of online harassment, abuse, and crime."

The election commitment follows Morrison last week pledging to protect older Australians, businesses, and national security assets from the risk of cyber-attacks, offering up AU$156 million to thwart cybercrime and beef up Australia's cyber talent.

Meanwhile, Labor has promised a AU$3 million Blockchain Academy in Perth, a AU$3 million National Centre of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Excellence in Melbourne, a human eye over any Commonwealth data-matching activity. It has also announced plans to stop multinationals from being able to get tax deductions on certain royalty payments.

The federal opposition also previously said that if elected, Labor would deliver a pilot and independent evaluation of a child-focused eSmart Digital Licence for a cost of AU$2.5 million, with a full national rollout to every student commencing Year 3 in 2020.

The eSmart Digital Licence, Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said, utilises quizzes, online activity, and role plays online to demonstrate the importance of certain behaviours to minors. Upon completion, the students receive a certificate.


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