Government says legislation tackling terror streaming still on agenda

Meeting with digital giants fail to dissuade government from legislative response

The government says that a meeting held today with social media giants failed to persuade it that a legislative response to the live-streaming on Facebook of the Christchurch terrorist attack is unnecessary.

In addition to Facebook, representatives from Google and Twitter reportedly attended the meeting.

Communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield told a press conference that in response to the meeting, the government would launch a taskforce that will report to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet through the Attorney-General's department, the Communications department, and the Home Affairs department.

That taskforce will include representatives from the major digital platforms and Internet service providers and examine “short- and medium-term responses”.

“What we want is practical measures to see this material identified more quickly, taken down more quickly, and to see greater transparency with the digital platforms when it comes to their responses to conveying terrorist material,” Fifield said.

Along with Fifield, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter attended the meeting.

Porter said the meeting was an “opportunity for the major social media platforms” including Facebook “to dissuade or discourage the government from a view that legislation may be needed to deal with the very specific problem of the live streaming of serious criminal offending”.

“As an effort to discourage that from that view, this was thoroughly underwhelming,” he said. “Different platforms may take different approaches to try to prevent the live streaming of serious criminal offending but there was unfortunately nothing in that room that would discourage the government from looking at a legislative solution to try to ensure that much, much quicker action is taken when a live stream involves the relaying of serious criminal offending.”

The attorney-general said that although the largest social networking services are not based in Australia, Australia’s laws “have an extraterritorial reach” if there is a local component to a potential criminal offence, such as an Australian watching a live stream.

The government has foreshadowed legislation that would target “abhorrent violent material” and potentially impose penalties on platforms that failed to quickly remove footage after being notified of it.

In the wake of the Christchurch attack, Vodafone, Telstra and Optus backed their customers from accessing a number of sites that hosted footage of the attack filmed by the gunman. That action was on a voluntary basis following a plea from the New Zealand government.

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