Months After Christchurch Shooting, The Australian Government Is Issuing Site-Blocking Orders Targeting Footage Of The Incident

from the oh-right-we-were-supposed-to-be-doing-something dept

Following the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, governments sprang into action to declare the internet to be the real villain. It wasn't. And isn't. But that didn't stop a strange series of policies from being enacted.

The New Zealand censorship board declared footage of the shooting -- captured by the shooter himself -- illegal. Once it had made it illegal to share or possess, it went after those who did, resulting in at least one person being sent to prison for making the footage available online.

The Australian government followed suit. It declared the footage illegal, putting pressure on social media companies and service providers to take down uploaded copies "expeditiously." This term wasn't defined in the rushed legislation. Nor were companies given any guidance on what amount of time was considered "reasonable" to react to reports of uploaded footage in order to avoid $168,000 (per incident) fines. Presumably the Australian government would know reasonableness when it saw it and fine accordingly.

Companies did what they were vaguely instructed to do. So did Australian internet service providers. The Guardian reports blocking efforts began immediately, with ISPs targeting any site where the footage was hosted. To date, these efforts have resulted in the blocking of 43 websites. It appears ISPs are maintaining their own blocklists, since the government hadn't bothered to hand down any guidance on its recently-passed "abhorrent content" law.

Months after the fact, the Australian government is finally codifying the block orders it's issuing.

To avoid legal complications the prime minister, Scott Morrison, asked the e-safety commissioner and the internet providers to develop a protocol for the e-safety commissioner to order the websites to block access to the offending sites.

The order issued on Sunday covers just eight websites, after several stopped hosting the material, or ceased operating, such as 8chan.

To have these blocks lifted, sites have to take down the material. But the review process lags behind the takedowns. Block orders are only reviewed every six months by the e-safety commissioner's office.

There are obviously speech concerns that aren't being addressed by this process or the legislation that prompted these site-blocking efforts. The footage and the shooter's manifesto are undeniably newsworthy. They are also of interest to researchers and any number of law enforcement agencies. Unilaterally declaring these illegal turns these parties into criminals. The law doesn't appear to contain any exceptions for journalists, researchers, or anyone else who may have a legitimate reason to possess or share this content.

The Australian government is fine with this because the e-safety commissioner has unilaterally declared this content to be so bad there can be no legitimate reason for anyone to have it in their possession.

“The slippery slope argument I keep seeing [is] this is not obscene content or objectionable content [but] it’s clearly illegal. I don’t see any public interest in making this kind of material that is designed to humiliate and to incite further terrorist acts and hatred.”

Well, okay. I guess as long as a government official can't see any public interest, there must be no public interest concerns. These blocking orders may be targeting specific content that's fairly distinctive, but the e-safety commissioner's statement ignores the breadth of the law, which targets far more than these two pieces of content.

The Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill creates new offences for content service providers and hosting services that fail to notify the Australian federal police about or fail to expeditiously remove videos depicting “abhorrent violent conduct”. That conduct is defined as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape or kidnap.

There goes a whole lot of newsworthy content, including content that may have investigative or evidentiary value. The vagueness of the law encourages proactive efforts from social media companies, which is going to result in a lot of false positives, as well as the memory-holing of content that's arguably of public interest, no matter how "abhorrent" that content may be.

Filed Under: australia, censorship, free speech, site blocking


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  1. identicon
    Annonymouse, 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:15am

    Abhorrent

    So what is the minister and his cronies trying to hide now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:42am

    Evidence Criminilization

    How long until we see somebody arrested for owning a surveillance camera, having it catch one of those listed crimes and go unnoticed until later?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Aussie Anon, 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:49am

    I am pissed that we have to deal with these overzealous chucklefucks that we Australians had no true hand in selecting to represent us as a nation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 5:49am

    Wait a minute.

    The Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill creates new offences for content service providers and hosting services that fail to notify the Australian federal police about or fail to expeditiously remove videos depicting “abhorrent violent conduct”. That conduct is defined as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape or kidnap.

    Now, does this explicitly mean only actual videos of terrorism, murders, etc., or does it include simulated versions of those acts (e.g., violent Hollywood films)? I know Australia has a giant bug up its ass about video game violence (to the point where games still have to be censored even with the enactment of an Aussie equivalent of the ESRB’s M rating), but are films granted more leeway? And would such “abhorrent violent content” include footage of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, despite its obvious status as newsworthy footage of a historic (albeit tragic) moment in history?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 5:58am

    Block orders are only reviewed every six months by the e-safety commissioner's office.

    That doesn't seem very "expeditious" to me. Or is there some natural law which makes it so only non-governmental organizations are physically capable of dealing with such content quickly?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:24am

    Not Australian so I can say It

    im sure with enough bribes he will let you host whatever anyone wants like they all do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:26am

    Re:

    and hosting services that fail to notify the Australian federal police about

    How long before the police object when hosting services send them the block lists generated by their algorithms?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:47am

    'If we can't see it, it doesn't exist.'

    The Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill creates new offences for content service providers and hosting services that fail to notify the Australian federal police about or fail to expeditiously remove videos depicting “abhorrent violent conduct”. That conduct is defined as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape or kidnap.

    It's a good thing there are zero historical examples of where such a ban would absolutely impact very newsworthy topics, like say documenting and reporting on war crimes, assaults/murders by police where it's their word versus whatever survivors there happens to be, you know, stuff like that where having video evidence could be the difference between a criminal being caught and prosecuted or that same person walking free, able to continue their actions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:51am

    Re: Abhorrent

    Police body camera footage where is shows the police acting illegally in furtherance of the Minister's agenda.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anon, 11 Sep 2019 @ 7:02am

    Abhorrent?

    I recall some comment in the debate on censorship that basically said - "the things that the righteous want banned are generally not the tidy clean middle of the road subjects. Let governments ban Tropic of Cancer or Last Tango in Paris and next thing you know they'll want to ban Huckleberry Finn or Harry Potter." The right to free speech exists to protect the unpopular, not the popular.

    It's Fahrenheit 11/9 where Michael Moore I believe uses footage (not explicit) of the Parkland shooter's rant to demonstrate how twisted both the shooter and society are. I suppose a New Zealand version would be highly illegal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Gary (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 8:03am

    Re:

    That conduct is defined as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape or kidnap.

    This should put Hollywood and the porn industry out of Australia all in one blow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    aerinai (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 8:26am

    So... Movies are illegal now?!

    "That conduct is defined as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape or kidnap." <-- No more Action movies in Australia, boys. The government just shut that down!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 8:50am

    Re: So... Movies are illegal now?!

    Or crime shows/movies. Sherlock Holmes? Nope.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 8:56am

    Remember when we jeered at China

    ... over censoring anything related to Tianeman Square and the protests there some 30 years ago? How it was akin to "harmful sensation", "just letting people view this harms our society"?

    It's taken 30 years, but Australia has finally stepped up to the challenge. Well done, Free World. Well done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    NoahVail (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 8:57am

    Imagine that 9/11 coverage was illegal

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 8:58am

    Re: So... Movies are illegal now?!

    They might go further. Their history texts could deny all wars since the beginning of time. Oh, and books (both fiction and non-fiction), just reading about abhorrent acts could spark the imagination and cause one to visualize what the text describes. That just wouldn't acceptable and needs to be blocked...by law.

    It will also be interesting to see how treatment of aboriginal Australians gets handled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 9:01am

    Re: Imagine that 9/11 coverage was illegal

    In New Zealand, it will be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Gary (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 10:49am

    Re: Re: So... Movies are illegal now?!

    This specifically calls out real and simulated videos. So that wouldn't cover books. CSI: Down Under would be banned however.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    JdL (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 1:14pm

    It should be amusing ...

    ... to watch the Australian government play Whack-a-Mole as the video gets passed around to more sites. Get a clue, guys, you can't win this one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 1:46pm

    Re: It should be amusing ...

    Or have the ISP blocks rendered ineffective by people using a DNS server from outside the country. The easily remembered ones are 1.1.1.1 (Cloudfare), 8.8.8.8 (Google) and 9.9.9.9 (Quad9).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 1:51pm

    If they can't use it to gin up a war, it's too violent for the public to see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    coward (anon), 11 Sep 2019 @ 3:49pm

    Re:

    That conduct is defined as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape or kidnap

    I was thinking the same thing about Hollywood films. Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" ticks at least 5 of the boxes as do several of the "Death Wish" movies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:44pm

    The law doesn't appear to contain any exceptions for journalists, researchers, or anyone else who may have a legitimate reason to possess or share this content.

    No exceptions, huh? Man the prosecutors are going to be pissed they can no longer use this type of evidence in trials.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 5:20pm

    Re: Re:

    Huge difference though, while both fictional and non-fictional videos may check those boxes, only one group has a tendency to throw large amounts of money at politicians, and that makes all the difference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:36pm

    Phrasing…

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Châu, 13 Sep 2019 @ 7:09pm

    Good reason watch

    I think watch video for see shooter methods and plan. Then people can develop plan how defend form shooter and attack against future shooter, that is VERY GOOD reason watch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2019 @ 2:36am

    Re:

    "This should put Hollywood and the porn industry out of Australia..."
    ...as well as all the blow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2019 @ 2:42am

    Re: Re: Imagine that 9/11 coverage was illegal

    Australia as well

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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