The Therapeutic Goods Administration is getting legal advice about some of the information in spam texts sent to millions of Australians by United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly
The TGA, which regulates the use and advertising of medicines across Australia, has sought legal advice about whether a website linked in one of the texts sent out in Mr Kelly’s name breaches the Criminal Code.
The text, which was authorised by the former Liberal MP, links to a website that uses the TGA’s logo and out-of-context data from the authority on adverse reactions to COVID vaccines.
“The lists of adverse events reported in association with COVID-19 vaccines linked to from the UAP text message are taken from the TGA’s publicly available Database of Adverse Event Notifications,” the TGA said on Wednesday.
“Reporting of an adverse event on the DAEN does not mean that the vaccine caused the event. Information on the DAEN cannot be used to evaluate whether a medicine or a vaccine is safe.”
The TGA said it was aware of false claims circulating based on misinterpretation of information published on the database, and in similar databases overseas.
“We encourage people to rely on credible information sources when making decisions about vaccination,” it said.
The TGA is considering whether use of its logo as in the UAP messages breaches copyright legislation and the Criminal Code Act 1995.
The Act relates to federal crimes, and makes it illegal to impersonate or falsely represent a Commonwealth body, which includes the TGA. If found guilty, a person can face up to two years in jail for the offence.
However, the TGA said it could take no further action against the texts themselves, because they don’t breach any rules around false advertising.
“The text messages and website do not appear to constitute advertising under the Act so no compliance action can be taken,” its statement said.
However, the TGA remained concerned about any information that provided an incorrect picture of the safety of COVID vaccines, especially if it was distributed widely. It encouraged Australians to head to the federal health department’s COVID-10 vaccines – is it true? site, which debunks false claims about the vaccines.
Mr Kelly and the UAP can send such mass messages because politicians and charities are exempt from the Do Not Call register. They are also exempt from the Spam Act, as long as their messages aren’t commercial.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has reportedly received thousands of complaints about the UAP text messages.
“ACMA is aware of text messages received by some Australians today from the United Australia Party. Messages from political parties, independent members of parliament (phone calls only), government bodies and registered charities are exempt from most spam and telemarketing rules,” it said last week.
Last week, Mr Kelly denied to TND that the UAP had bought or used a list of phone numbers to carry out the texting campaign, claiming it instead used a “random number selector” program to choose numbers.
A UAP spokesperson said he was unable to answer technical questions on the advertising, but said anyone “who is annoyed by these texts should lobby both the Liberal and Labor [parties] to change the laws that they created and passed”.