Directly following the terror attacks in Christchurch earlier in 2019, the Australian Government introduced “The Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material” bill, which included hastily crafted legislation to penalise offending websites and social media platforms that failed to take down abhorrent violent material within a “reasonable” timeframe.
Since then, Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have diligently blocked a total of 43 websites that hosted or shared the abhorrent content relating to the Christchurch attack, although the aforementioned bill – at the time – didn’t necessarily give them the legal clearance to do so.
As such, these ISPs called for laws and guidelines to be put in place to protect them from any repercussions they may encounter from blocking these sites, and for them to have clear government backing in doing so.
The government steps in
Now, six months after the attack itself, the Australian eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant has given the appropriate government backing in the form of a direct order to continue blocking eight of these sites – the remainder of the initial sites that refused requests to take down the material.
This is the first example of clear legal backing for the ISPs to be blocking sites on these grounds, however it isn’t
Commissioner Inman Grant’s office will be responsible for monitoring the eight blocked sites – all of which are hosted outside of Australia – over the course of the six-month ban in order to determine whether they have complied with the removal request and can thus have the block lifted.
The eight websites that have been blocked have not been named, likely to avoid drawing any further attention to them. Following the six-month ban and monitoring period, the sites will face a full review and likely receive a further ban if they haven't complied.
Legislation in action
Speaking with ABC Radio’s AM program,Commissioner Inman Grant stated that her eSafety office had received 413 reports of malicious content online since the aforementioned Abhorrent Violent Material bill had been put in place.
“About 93% of it is child sexual abuse material that we have taken down through other regulatory powers that we have”, she said.
But for the remaining 7% that does fit the nature of content covered by the bill, five takedown notices have been issued so far, three of which have been complied with, but no prosecutions have taken place thus far.