Internet service providers, social media companies and other online platforms will need to remove severely harmful, abusive or bullying content within 24 hours or risk being blocked, under the federal government’s proposed online safety legislation.
Currently, takedown notices for image-based abuse, cyber-abuse, cyberbullying, and seriously harmful online content needs to be actioned within 48 hours.
Under the Coalition’s bill, if a website or app ignores takedown notices for content such as child sexual abuse material, the e-safety commissioner will require search engines and app stores to block access to those services.
A rapid website-blocking power has been added to allow the commissioner to respond to online crisis events such as the Christchurch terrorist attacks, by requesting internet service providers block access to terrorist and extremely violent content for a limited time period.
As well as substantial new measures to protect adults online, the draft legislation also adds protections for children, expanding the cyberbullying scheme to enable removal of material from online games, websites, messaging and hosting services – rather than just social media.
Under strengthened information-gathering powers, the e-safety commissioner would be able to unmask the identities behind anonymous or fake accounts responsible for online abuse or exchanging illegal content. An updated online content scheme would require the industry to do more to keep users safe online through updated industry codes.
The federal communications and cyber safety minister, Paul Fletcher, said “these are substantial reforms”.
“The internet has brought great social, educational and economic benefits,” he said in a statement on Wednesday. “But just as a small proportion of human interactions go wrong offline, so too are there risks online. By establishing proper protections to help keep Australians safe online, we can in turn help Australians to realise the substantial benefits that come from using the internet.”
The proposed legislation classifies cyber-abuse material aimed at adults as material an “ordinary reasonable person would conclude” is “menacing, harassing or offensive” and likely and intended to harm to an individual, for example, the sharing of revenge porn.
Extremely violent content, referred to in the bill as “abhorrent violent material”, is defined as any audio or visual material that records or streams, for example, a terrorist act, murder, torture, rape or kidnapping.
The government aims to enforce these measures through a combination of infringement notices, enforceable undertakings, and injunctions. Guardian Australia understands the commissioner will rely on existing cooperative relationships with service providers in the first instance. However, enforcement measures against companies overseas can be pursued by the commissioner, so long as the alleged victim is Australian, a spokesman from Fletcher’s office said.
The release of the draft bill on Wednesday actions key policy taken to the 2019 election, the government said, with submissions accepted until 14 February.