More companies affected by Australia’s controversial proposed Online Safety Act are voicing their concerns with the legislation with Facebook and Twitter now joining Google in speaking out.
The Online Safety Act is a bill before the Parliament that seeks to expand the powers of the eSafety Commissioner with the hopes of reducing online abuse and the misuse of tech platforms to spread violence and hate.
Despite serious concerns raised about giving more power to unelected government official, the Federal Government has largely ignored issues raised and have been rushing the law through.
Here’s what some of the big companies most affected by these new powers have said in response:
While saying that the company agrees with the goal of a safer internet, a submission from Twitter to the Senate Committee about the Bill outlines serious concerns about what it considers to be landmark legislation.
Twitter’s submission questions a provision in the Act that would allow the eSafety Commissioner to summon people to produce documents or answer questions, much like a police agency would.
“As currently drafted, the Bill essentially confers quasi-judicial and law enforcement powers to the eSafety Commissioner without any accompanying guidelines or guardrails around which cases would constitute grounds for the Commissioner to exercise these powers other than the very broad ‘serious harm’ definition,” it said.
The submission also questions the rationale for the bill’s proposed reduction for the amount of time that a platform has to remove cyber-bullying and image-based abuse material, particularly when it has to deal with complex cases.
“It’s unclear why it is necessary to further reduce and codify the turnaround time from 48 to 24 hours when the eSafety Commissioner routinely states that companies remove content promptly,” it said.
Facebook also restates its commitment to improving online safety in Australia, but said in a company blogpost that there are “three areas where the scheme seems to go further than the state policy intent of the legislation” — which is the corporate way of saying this law is major overreach.
These concerns are:
- giving a single government figure “a considerable level of discretion and power over speech online” without checks and balances.
- whether the cyber-bullying law could be used to restrict political speech.
- regulating what happens in private messages with the new law, fearing that platforms can’t capable of deciding what personal communication is cyber-abuse.
Both Facebook and Twitter have made it clear that the process for the Online Safety Bill seemed rushed for such a sprawling piece of legislation that could change the way Australian internet works.