The government has agreed to formalise arrangements put in place following the Christchurch terror attack that saw access to online material associated with the incident blocked within Australia.
A taskforce comprising digital platform owners and major telcos asked the government last month for formal powers to block websites hosting “extreme violent content” in relation to “crisis events”.
Telcos blocked websites following the Christchurch attack using somewhat vague existing powers but asked for more specific rules to rely upon in future.
The government said Sunday that it would “establish a clear and unambiguous content blocking framework for crisis events.”
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement that the industry’s cooperation around the Christchurch attack in seeking to limit Australians in being able to access online material associated with the attack constituted “a responsible move ... that prioritised the safety of Australians online.”
“It is important that the government gives the industry the backing it needs for this type of action, now and into the future,” he said.
Fletcher made a specific distinction in the material being targeted and sought to separate the government’s action from attempts a decade ago by the then-Labor government to introduce site-blocking powers.
“The eSafety Commissioner will make ... independent determinations on a case by case basis to keep Australians safe online while upholding important internet freedoms,” Fletcher said.
The Government would also update its crisis management framework to include a “24/7 Crisis Coordination Centre to monitor and notify relevant government agencies of online crisis events involving terrorist and extreme violent material”.
This real-time monitoring facility would essentially provide the eSafety Commissioner and other agencies “with information to undertake rapid assessments.”
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the idea was to “better equip our agencies to rapidly detect and shut down the sharing of dangerous material online, even as a crisis may still be unfolding.”
The government said it could still legislate in the event that digital platforms did not do enough generally “to improve the safety of their services, and address the gaps laid bare by the Christchurch terrorist attacks.”
The shadow assistant minister for communications and cybersecurity, Labor MP Tim Watts, characterised the blocking announcement as measures aimed only at curbing "live streaming" of crisis events.
He suggested a deeper level of action was required to target the root cause of extremism online.
"What’s the government doing to address the Christchurch Call’s commitment to tackle social media algorithms that drive marginalised people to violent extremist narratives?" he tweeted.