Controversial Online Safety Bill passes despite objections from opposition
The Online Safety Bill has passed the Senate and will soon become law, despite major criticisms from opposing parties. The Bill is designed to give new protections to Australian adults who experience online harassment.
Under the new Bill, the eSafety Commissioner, a role currently held by Julie Inman Grant, is granted new powers and responsibilities to regulate the removal of offending content and blocking of sites that breach laws. These powers also allow the Commissioner to issue takedown notices to sites that breach the Bill and will require platforms to respond to the notice within 24 hours.
According to the Greens, the Bill is "poorly drafted and could lead to widespread, unintended consequences''. They have repeatedly voted against the Bill and are already making calls for a repeal and redraft.
"This Bill would make the eSafety Commissioner the sole arbiter of internet content in Australia," Greens Digital Rights spokesperson, Senator Nick McKim, said in a statement from the party.
The Greens are also concerned that the Bill will be used to stifle public interest news and events by removing violent imagery, such as footage of police violence.
Labor and the Coalition passed a series of amendments to the Bill in response to the objections including a requirement to release a yearly report on the eSafety Commissioner's use of the new powers.
The Greens are already planning to vote against the legislation. They also plan to move amendments which will require an independent review of the Act in two years.
The Bill will be returned to the Lower House before it comes into effect within the coming months.
The So What
The new Bill has called into question the nature of online censorship in Australia. Greens Senator Nick McKim raised concerns that the legislation will increase the use of AI and automated detection systems by large companies to remove offending content which could result in blanket bans and misuse.
Others have raised concerns that because the Bill does not take the National Classifications Code into account and grants the eSafety Commissioner absolute power without regulation, there is potential for the Bill to be used against lawful and compliant online content creators.