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- Australian authorities have ordered five websites to remove extremist content or face prosecution, in the first application of a new law introduced in the wake of March’s terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.
- The abhorrent material targeted by Canberra includes videos showing the beheading of a Scandinavian tourist in Morocco and an attack by a white supremacist on two mosques in Christchurch that killed 51 people and sparked a global debate over restricting access to extremist content online.
- The offending websites are all based outside Australia, according to the country’s eSafety commission, which in April was granted powers to investigate and order the removal of extremist content.
- These are fringe websites that revel in gore and hatred. All of them are based overseas
- Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety commissioner
- “These are fringe websites that revel in gore and hatred. All of them are based overseas,” Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety commissioner, told the Financial Times.
- Under the new legislation, social media companies, websites and internet service providers are liable for fines of 10 per cent of their annual global turnover if they fail to remove abhorrent or extremist material, while executives could face possible jail sentences.
- Ms Inman Grant said on Monday that three of the five websites Canberra was targeting had taken down the offensive material, and no prosecutions had yet been initiated.
- She said the move by the three websites demonstrated the force of potential prosecution, and added that she expected other countries would follow Australia’s lead in targeting such material.
- However, critics say Australia’s ability to compel foreign websites to comply by threatening prosecution is limited.
- “A lot of these rogue websites are Mickey Mouse operations with little or no revenue and so it’s very hard to hold them to account,” said Fergus Hanson, a cyber security expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a Canberra-based think-tank.
- Australia’s legislation — the first of its kind in the world — has been criticised by technology giants Facebook and Google, which say that it marks a change in regulation that is out of step with frameworks in the US and Europe.
- Digi, an Australian lobby group representing Facebook, Google and Twitter, has warned Canberra that the new laws could undermine US-Australia security co-operation by forcing the tech groups to share content data with Australian police, in contravention of US law.
- Australia plans to tighten its regulations on Facebook and Google
- In a separate move, Canberra on Monday ordered Australian internet service providers to block access to eight other websites that continued to allow access to the video of the Christchurch attacks or the manifesto of the alleged perpetrator.
- Ms Inman Grant said there were jurisdictional challenges involved in overseas prosecutions, but added: “I expect in the next five years we will see a proliferation of similar regulators seeking to do the same thing.”
- She noted that international co-operation on extremist content through the Five Eyes intelligence network comprising Australia, Canada, UK, the US and New Zealand had intensified since the Christchurch attacks.
- In May, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, and French president Emmanuel Macron launched Christchurch Call, a global initiative linking up the heads of global tech giants with political leaders for talks on tackling extremism.
- Copyright The Financial Times Limited . All rights reserved. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.
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