Major Australian Internet service providers (ISPs) have been directed to continue blocking access to eight sites that host footage of the Christchurch terrorist attacks or the manifesto written by the alleged attacker.
In the wake of the Christchurch attacks in March, major telcos including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone blocked a range of sites that hosted copies of the footage originally streamed by the alleged gunman on Facebook Live. Sites including 4chan, 8chan, Kiwi Farms, Encyclopaedia Dramatica, Live Leak, Voat and Zerohedge were believed to be blocked, at least temporarily, by some or all of the ISPs. Those blocks were implemented voluntarily.
“Australian internet service providers acted quickly and responsibly in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Christchurch in March this year to block websites that were hosting this harmful material,” communications minister Paul Fletcher said today.
“ISPs called on the government to provide them with certainty and clarity in taking the action they did, and today, we are providing that certainty.”
The minister said that the eSafety Commissioner had directed ISPs to continue blocking a list of eight websites. The blocks will last at least six months, following which the commissioner will review the sites and remove from the list those that have taken down copies of the footage or manifesto.
“I have consulted with both the ISPs and the website administrators, giving the websites ample opportunity to remove this horrific content, and a number have complied. So those hosting this material do so in the full knowledge that Australia will take action to halt its continued proliferation,” the eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said in a statement.
“The remaining rogue websites need only to remove the illegal content to have the block against them lifted,” she said.
It is the first time the commissioner has directly ordered ISPs to block content.
“We cannot allow this heinous material to be used to promote, incite or instruct in further terrorist acts,” said Inman Grant.
The government said that the commissioner is working with telcos on a protocol for rapid takedowns of terror material during crisis events. Devising such arrangements was a recommendation of the Australian Taskforce To Combat Terrorist And Extreme Violent Material Online. The taskforce said that ultimately the government should move to introduce legislation to “establish a content blocking framework for terrorist and extreme violent material online in crisis events”.
In August Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an OECD initiative that he said would “strengthen transparency by tech companies in a bid to prevent online terrorist activity”.
“I’m very pleased to say that Australia, together with New Zealand and the OECD, is funding a project to develop Voluntary Transparency Reporting Protocols on preventing, detecting, and removing terrorist and violent extremist content from online platforms. We welcome and encourage further support for this project,” a statement released at the time by the PM said.
“This work will establish standards and provide clarity about how online platforms are protecting their users, and help deliver commitments under the Christchurch Call to implement regular and transparent public reporting in a way that is measurable and supported by clear methodology,” Morrison said.
“Digital industry will benefit from establishing a global level playing field. The project will assist to reduce the risk of further unilateral action at national levels, avoid fragmentation of the regulatory landscape and reduce reporting burdens for online platforms.”