New powers introduced after the Christchurch terror attack are being used by Australian esafety authorities to remove abhorrent violent material online, including live-streamed murders.
Internet and hosting providers, including social media companies like Facebook, are required to “expeditiously remove abhorrent violent material” or face harsh penalties, including up to three years in prison.
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said her office had received 413 reports of “horrific” content since the legislation came into effect in April.
“About 93 per cent of it is child sexual abuse material that we have taken down through other regulatory powers that we have,” she said.
“But 7 per cent of the content is abhorrent violent content and that’s described as any form of live-streamed torture, kidnapping, murder.”
Ms Grant said she had issued five notices demanding various sites take the material down.
Almost all of them have been live-streamed murders,” she said.
“These tend to be on what we refer to as ‘fringe’ sites that revel in all forms of gore and violence.
“But yes, they tend to be more far-right extremist sites.”
Three of the five notices had been complied with, but no prosecutions had yet been initiated.
Footage of Christchurch attack still online
Ms Inman Grant said other new powers were being used to stop Australians accessing the footage and manifesto of the Christchurch terror attack.
Nearly six months on, and despite efforts to have it removed, eight foreign-based websites have refused requests to take the content down.
As the shooting unfolded, Australia’s largest internet service providers (ISPs), including Telstra and Optus, blocked users from 43 different sites.
John Stanton, the chief executive of Communications Alliance, said the ISPs were operating in uncharted territory.
“When the attack happened in Christchurch, ISPs spent the first couple of days talking to the AFP, the eSafety Commissioner, the government department, the regulator, saying, ‘What should we do?'” he said.
“There wasn’t a Government direction at that time.”
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the Government worked to address the problems that arose from the tragedy.
“The challenge was that this video was disseminated very quickly on the internet and it was being live-streamed for some 70 minutes before action was taken,” he said.
The ISPs asked for legal backing of their actions. Today, for the first time, Ms Inman Grant has directed them to maintain a block on eight sites that still have material relating to the Christchurch attack, for a further six months.
“We do not want Australians to have exposure or access to this material,” she told AM.
“It could be extremely damaging to the people who are viewing it, but it can also incite further terrorist acts.”
Mr Stanton has welcomed the direction issued by the eSafety Commissioner to keep the block on the sites.
“They [the ISPs] didn’t really have a firm legal foundation for doing so, so this direction does provide the sort of assurance that ISPs have been looking for,” he said.
Preventing the spread of terror attack live streaming
The eSafety Commissioner is now working with industry to develop a protocol to respond to future terror attacks that are live-streamed online.
“We know based on what we’ve seen in Dayton and El Paso, it’s not a matter of if but a matter of when,” Ms Inman Grant said.
Mr Stanton is hopeful the protocol will ensure a more timely and coordinated response in the future.
“Hopefully, and God forbid this should ever happen again, we will be in a position where all players will be in dialogue immediately and will be able to make an immediate decision,” he said.
Mr Fletcher is confident that will be the case.
“This will establish the legal framework for the eSafety commissioner to move quickly to issue that blocking direction,” he said.