Social media companies decry threat to jail execs over terror streaming

DIGI urges government not to rush legislation after Christchurch attack

A group representing major social media companies has urged the government not to rush legislation intended to respond to the live-streaming of the Christchurch terror attack.

Over the weekend the government said it would this week introduce new legislation into parliament to “prevent the weaponising of social media platforms and to protect Australians from the live-streaming of violent crimes”.

“Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.

“It should not just be a matter of just doing the right thing. It should be the law. And that is what my government will be doing next week to force social media companies to get their act together and work with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to defuse the threat their technologies can present to the safety of Australians.”

The government last week held a meeting with representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter. Following that meeting Attorney-General Christian Porter said the government remained convinced that legislation was necessary to respond to the streaming of violent material.

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

On Saturday Porter said that the new legislation — the Criminal Code Amendment (Unlawful Showing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019 — will create new offences with penalties of up 10 per cent of a company’s annual turnover and “potential prison sentences for executives of social media companies who fail to act to remove abhorrent violent material from their platforms”.

Morrison also announced a new taskforce that would bring together representatives of the government and social media companies to address the issues raised by the Christchurch attack.

Sunita Bose, the managing director of Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), today said that DIGI members “share the government’s commitment to keeping Australians safe and have been working with governments, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies to ensure terrorism and other illegal activity committed offline are not amplified through their platforms.”

However, in a statement she said that it was “concerning that this legislation has been announced — with the government planning to rush it through Parliament in just three days — without any meaningful consultation with the digital industry, security, legal and technical experts, the intelligence community, the media, and civil society; and, ahead of its own first government taskforce meeting to address the issue on Friday.”

DIGI’s members include Facebook, Google, Oath, Twitter, Yahoo and Redbubble.

“We all want online spaces to be safe and respectful and DIGI members continually work at additional ways to use resources, and invest in technologies, to ensure that is the case,” Bose said

“Announcing measures such as jailing staff at social media companies is inappropriate for a democracy such as Australia, and does not help the debate or solve the issue.”

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