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    Australian Senate - Parliament of Australia

    Australia Passes Contentious Bill Targeting Tech Firms for 'Abhorrent Material'

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    The news comes after 50 victims at a mosque were killed in Christchurch, New Zealand by assailant Brenton Tarrant, who live-streaming video footage to Facebook.

    A set of contentious laws have been passed in Australia which could slap tech companies with penalties if they host violent content on their social media platforms. 

    The Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019, introduced by Australian prime minister Scott Morrison last week, would impose penalties on tech companies for failing to quickly remove "abhorrent violent material", which includes murders, terrorism, rapes, tortures and kidnappings, and would also jail executives for failing to comply.

    Whilst the Australian government asserts that websites "should not be weaponised", critics of the new laws have condemned MPs for rushing them through parliament without criticism. 

    Tech companies could also face fines of up to £5.6m (A$10.5m), or roughly 10 percent of the company's annual turnover, the bill states. Company executives who "provide a content service" violating the legislation could also face up to three years in jail. 

    Companies would be required to take down the offensive content "expeditiously", which has not been clearly defined by legislators but instead determined by juries, according to the law.

    Following the Christchurch massacre, social media platforms were unable to stop the spread of the graphic video across the internet, including 8-chan, where 1.5m copies of the file surfaced. Facebook also said last week that it was mulling restrictions on live-streaming videos following the attack.

    The bill passed with bipartisan support after Labour opposition backed the bill, despite calling it "flawed", and pledged to scrutinise the laws after parliamentary elections next month. The strict legislation would be "most likely a world first", Australian attorney-general Christian Porter said on Thursday.

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    "There are platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook who do not seem to take their responsibility to not show the most abhorrently violent material seriously," Mr. Porter added. ​

    What are Industry Leaders Saying? 

    Social media executives and legal experts have slammed the bill after meeting the Prime Minister last week, with the Digital Industry Group — a group representing tech companies in Australia — assured that tech firms were already working to remove violent content quickly.  

    "With the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second, this is highly complex problem," a DIGI spokeswoman said.

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    The Law Council of Australia also hit back at the controversial bill, stating that the law as it currently stands could lead to blanket censorship or could even target whistleblowers. "Laws formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event do not necessarily equate to good legislation and can have myriad unintended consequences," the council said.

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    Tags:
    internet service providers, social media, legislation, islamophobia, bill, Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Bill 2019, Christchurch massacre, Australian Parliament, Scott Morrison, Canberra, Australia
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