Aussie Senate Rushes Thru Bill That Would Fine Social Media Companies For Not Taking Down 'Abhorrent' Content Fast Enough

from the WE-HAVE-DONE-SOMETHING-the-AG-exclaimed dept

Following the Christchurch mosque shooting, the New Zealand government swiftly declared footage and photos of the shooting illegal and started rounding up citizens who violated the censorship body’s new declaration. The government of its closest neighbor has responded to the tragedy in a similar fashion, outlawing the sharing of “abhorrent violent material.”

Tragedies make for bad laws. And Australia — while relatively short on tragedy — has been crafting some supremely bad laws lately. The national security flag was waved around a bit to justify encryption-breaking mandates. Now, the government has rushed through a bill targeting content like the Christchurch shooter’s livestream of his violent act.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019 has been loosely characterised as a crackdown on social media companies to prevent a recurrence of what transpired during the Christchurch massacre, where live video was streamed by the perpetrator and then shared by users.

But the text of the amendment [pdf] shows it takes a far wider brush than just to social media companies, instead hitting a wider range of online content storage and carriage service providers, with very few exceptions.

Abhorrent material is defined as relating to terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape or kidnapping.

This bill [PDF] was rushed through a Senate session with 18 other bills — all of this accomplished in under 45 minutes. Such was the sense of urgency that Senate members voted sight unseen. Only one Senator even bothered asking for the text of the bill being voted on. It didn’t matter. There was no text to be had at the time of the vote.

The bill demands the removal of “objectionable” content within a “reasonable amount of time.” “Reasonable” isn’t defined. The bill simply demands “expeditious removal” after notification and an initial fine of $168,000 for not being expeditious enough.

There’s no legal definition of “expeditious” to rely on, so social media providers will apparently have to make do with the Attorney General’s feelings.

[A]ttorney-General Christian Porter gave some indication during a televised briefing of how quickly individuals and companies might have to act.

“Using the Christchurch [massacre] example, I can’t precisely say what would have been the point of time at which it would have been reasonable for [Facebook] to understand that this was live streaming on their site or playable on their site, and they should have removed it,” Porter said.

“But what I can say – and I think every Australian would agree – [is] it was totally unreasonable that it should exist on this site for well over an hour without them taking any action whatsoever.

So, tech companies have an hour to remove anything the Australian government claims is abhorrent, whether or not the content was uploaded by an Australian. If this vague deadline isn’t met, the fines begin escalating. $168,000 is merely the starting point.

Individuals can be hit with a three-year jail term, up to $2.1 million in fines, or both. Companies meanwhile can face fines up to $10.5 million or 10 percent of their annual turnover.

The Attorney General is inordinately proud of his plan to fine and lock up tech company execs because of content their users posted. He calls it a “world first” and says it’s supported by a “near unanimous view amongst Australians.” This does not mean Australians were consulted while the bill was being drafted. There was also no input from tech companies which will have to respond “expeditiously” to a vague, overbroad directive.

The AG stands united with a bunch of people he didn’t speak to while talking up a bill no Senators read before passing. What could possibly go wrong?

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Comments on “Aussie Senate Rushes Thru Bill That Would Fine Social Media Companies For Not Taking Down 'Abhorrent' Content Fast Enough”

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45 Comments
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Something something bills quickly rushed after a tragedy often are horrible ideas wrapped up in headline seeking about having done something.

But then these are the same minds that were sure their law could change the basics of math to suit them & went after reporters for reporting on news seemingly because they feared their citizens would be unable to give someone a fair trial if they heard the outcome of a different case.

PaulT (profile) says:

"Such was the sense of urgency that Senate members voted sight unseen"

Sigh… I can understand emotional overreacting, but even the dumbest political should be made to read the things they try to make the rest of us obey before they sign it into law. Any law that’s passed should be null and void the moment the people with the job of reading it admit that they failed to do their job.

If I ran to sign contracts at work without reading the T&Cs because I had an emotional reaction to something, I’d at least be disciplined if that came out, if not fired. Even if the end result turned out to be what I assumed it would be, but especially if there were things in there that would needless cripple the work of colleagues. Why not these people?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"If I ran to sign contracts at work without reading the T&Cs because I had an emotional reaction to something, I’d at least be disciplined if that came out, if not fired."

"Why not these people?"

Because in the private sector we’re more or less used to the idea of personal accountability. You mess up, there will be consequences, and you’re usually the guy who gets to handle the fallout of your own actions.

In politics when someone messes up what happens is that your successor gets to blame whoever sat on his chair before him and earn a few more votes for his party.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Most real jobs require that the employee perform tasks associated with their job description and when they do not meet the standards set forth by HR dept they are usually let go. Politicians do not seem to understand this requirement and think they are immune. Hopefully the voters let them in on a well known fact, assuming that voting even works anymore.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Someone just needs to take advantage of their panicked sheep mentality and regularly slip in clauses that slashes their pay and benefits to ‘minimum wage’ and ‘non-existent’ respectively(or hell, have a system that does it automatically and randomly for every bill).

If they knew that not reading every bill had the chance to suddenly knock them off their well paid thrones I imagine they’d be much more interested in reading them before voting.

Anonymous Coward says:

The elitist computer world control fanatics that advocate a one world government based on hate and slavery just do not seem to understand that there is a significant portion of the world population that believes that these elitists should suffer the same fate as the Ruthenians and the Manchurians and the faster the better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

"The elitist computer world control fanatics that advocate a one world government based on hate and slavery … "

computer world?
If you have a beef with certain corporations and their questionable behaviors it is best to address them rather than foist it upon a stereotypical all encompassing group of people that you know nothing about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I prefer telling them that they have to write it themselves in the first place.

No one gets to vote on these political action committees (or their members) that write laws for politicians to sign and some of them do not even read it.

Representative government does not represent the constituents when those in office refuse to represent the needs of their constituents. This should be obvious but some will argue for a cult of personality, demand compliance from everyone and then claim their country is the best free and open democracy ever.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

An hour?

Didn’t I read somewhere that there were like 1.5 million of these streams? Is it at all possible for anyone to find 1.5 million copies of something that might or might not have the same name, in an hour? I don’t know what the technical machinations of ‘taking something down’ are, but even if it is a few keystrokes after navigating to the particular place, doing that 1.5 million times is going to take some time.

Is the deficit in Australia so big that it needs these kind of laws to support whatever their current tax scheme is?

Anonymous Coward says:

What the actual fuck is this?

It explicitly states defendants are guilty until proven innocent in criminal proceedings at the whim of a single bureaucrat, and that said bureaucrat is not required to institute any form of procedural fairness in making that decision.

And they literally put a section in there which states that this law totally doesn’t violate the Constitution. What is even going on in Australia that that’s something people would even think of doing, much less actually be able to?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Say good-bye to your tech industry Australia

As I understand it the video was up for so long on FB at least because apparently no-one reported it. The only way FB could have known to take it down sooner was if they someone caught it themselves, and given the amount of content they have to go through that would be asking them to spot a needle in a lake of haystacks, while blindfolded.

With hefty fines and even jail time on the hook for not catching something inside an hour(and keeping it from being reposted) a platform would have to be insane to operate in australia now, as it would be trivial for someone(or a group) to post something objectionable and get the company in serious trouble, all because they can’t manage to meet the impossible standards the idiot politicians and AG have set.

Anonymous Coward says:

So much for nature shows now
Can’t see a spider devour a fly anymore
or heaven forbid a shark eat a fish .
Oh the horrors NZ will be saved from .
What happens to the child who uploads himself/herself/it/unicorn/
stepping on a ant and smooching it for all world to see
Well off with its head of course to save the rest .

cattress (profile) says:

Misplaced blame

Seems to me that there is all this anger and blame being lobbed at platforms- who all seemed to take removing of such abhorrent footage seriously, preferring to err on the side of caution- and no real effort to examine what the hell is wrong with people that they wish to proliferate the footage? I’m not advocating for some aggressive action or thought police. Instead, an effort to engage with groups that viewed or spread the videos, in a peaceful manner, with out attempting to censor them for saying hateful things- let these people be who they are, as vile as it is to the rest of us. Some of these people may be able to be reached and eventually persuaded to more empathetic and sympathetic attitudes towards fellow humans if they are shown kindness, respect, and a willingness to accept them into mainstream communities regardless of their flaws. I’m not stupid, I know a good number of these people have hardened hate into their bones, but not everyone. People who feel outcast from society, angry at the world, find community within hate groups and other outcasts. We keep trying to eradicate these people from every platform, and screeching at platforms for not playing whack-a-mole well enough, instead of giving people the tools to protect themselves from their harassment and relegating them to their own little safe places where we can keep an eye on them much better than if they only exist in the corners of the dark web.

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