Australia passes strict intermediary liability law

15 Apr 2019

The Australian government passed the Criminal Code Amendment (sharing of abhorrent violent material) Bill which makes it illegal for social media platforms to fail to promptly remove abhorrent violent user material shared on their services. The legislation seems to be a response to the March mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. The attack was carried out by a white supremacist who used a helmet-mounted camera to live stream on Facebook as he murdered 50 people in two mosques. The law defines abhorrent violent material as acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape, and kidnapping. The crime will be punishable by three years in prison for individuals and up to 10% of a corporate body’s annual turnover. The legislation creates a liability regime that is stricter than the notice-and-takedown regimes in place in the USA and Europe.​

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Intermediaries play a vital role in ensuring Internet functionality. In several Internet governance areas, such as copyright infringement and spam, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are considered key online intermediaries. In other areas, such as defamation and the so-called right to be forgotten, the responsibility extends to hosts of online content and search engines.

Several international instruments guarantee the right to freedom of expression. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that this right includes the freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. The Internet, with the opportunity it offers people to express themselves, is seen as an enabler of the exercise of this particular human right. Although these freedoms are guaranteed in global instruments and in national constitutions, in some countries freedom of expression is often curtailed through online censorship or filtering mechanisms, imposed by states, often for political reasons.

One of the main sociocultural issues is content policy, often addressed from the standpoints of human rights (freedom of expression and the right to communicate), government (content control), and technology (tools for content control). Discussions usually focus on three groups of content:

 

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