Aussie Internet Regulator Wants Regulatory Power to Keep the Internet Regulated

Aussie Internet Regulator Wants Regulatory Power to Keep the Internet Regulated
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On Tuesday afternoon, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) appeared before Senate Estimates, explaining that it doesn’t have the power to compel data on misinformation from digital platforms such as Facebook (sorry, Meta) and Twitter.

If you’re thinking, don’t they already have this power? The answer is no. It’s provided to the ACMA on a voluntary basis by the digital platforms.

ACMA chair Nerita O’Loughlin said that in the ‘space’ around complaints handling, it would be “very handy” if her agency were able to gather additional information from the platforms.

Senators were confused, quoting the Act the ACMA operates under:

ACMA’s broadcasting, content and datacasting functions are to … inform itself and advise the Minister on technological advances and service trends in the broadcasting industry, internet industry and datacasting industry … to report to, and advise, the Minister in relation to the broadcasting industry, internet industry and datacasting industry … and to do anything incidental to or conducive to the performance of any of the above functions.

However, that isn’t enough to empower the ACMA in relation to misinformation.

“If you look at some of our other legislative responsibilities, we had specific powers to compel information from say the telecommunications companies … we don’t have similar powers to compel information from platforms on misinformation and disinformation,” O’Loughlin clarified.

The Digital Industry Group (DIGI) – a non-profit industry association advocating for the digital industry in Australia – were given authority to develop an industry code, instead of a government-defined one, by the ACMA in 2020.

A year ago, DIGI signed on tech giants such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Tik-Tok, Twitter and Facebook to a voluntary code of practice, which aims to stem disinformation on digital platforms that operate in Australia.

DIGI set up a portal in October – basically a place Aussies could go to complain about the digital platforms. But again, participation in the code is voluntary and so too is providing information to the ACMA. O’Loughlin said it’s just a matter of waiting it out to see if this honesty system works out.

“We don’t currently have powers that we can compel the production of information, that said, the digital platforms under the code have given us reports about compliance,” she said. “They are very early reports and think it’s a work in progress for the platforms to be able to give us the information we need – that’s done on a voluntary basis because of that. And we’re working with the platforms to improve that information.”