Attorney-General Christian Porter
Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield
E & OE
FIFIELD: All of us were shocked by the recent horrific events in New Zealand. These were regrettably compounded by the fact that they were broadcast on social media platforms, on Facebook, which only added to the harm and the distress. Today, myself, the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the Minister for Home Affairs, the AFP Commissioner, and the Director-General of ASIO met with the social media platforms and the internet service providers to convey the very clear message that the forms of behaviour, the rules and the laws that apply in the physical world should also apply online.
It’s clear that the responses of Facebook and other social media platforms were not fast enough. They weren’t good enough. And that was a message that was clearly conveyed.
In response to the meeting today, the Prime Minister and Ministers are announcing that we are establishing a taskforce which will report to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet through the Attorney-General’s Department, the Communications Department, and the Home Affairs Department. It will have representatives of the platforms and the internet service providers so that we can look at both short and medium term responses.
What we want is practical measures to see this material identified more quickly, taken down more quickly, and see greater transparency with the digital platforms when it comes to their responses to conveying terrorist material.
As a Government, we have demonstrated that where there is a need to act, we will. In the case of online cyber-bullying of children, we legislated a regime. When it comes to the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, we legislated a regime. Our clear preference is obviously to work cooperatively with the platforms, but where there is a need for legislation, we will not hesitate. The Attorney has some comments to make on these matters and other possible Government responses.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Thank you, Mitch.
Amongst other things, this meeting provided an opportunity for the major social media platforms, and I’d nominate Facebook specifically there, to dissuade or discourage the Government from a view that legislation may be needed to deal with the very specific problem of the live streaming of serious criminal offending.
And the live streaming of serious criminal offending is not necessarily a brand new problem. There have very sadly been instances documented where individuals have live streamed very serious offences, including sexual offences, but of course the tragedy that unfolded in Christchurch was the first example of a terrorist live streaming a terrorist event, which obviously involved the massacre and mass murder of innocent civilians in New Zealand.
It is impossible to understate the consequence and significance of that particular issue of a social media platform being used by a terrorist perpetrator to spread terror, to spread violence, to spread their crazed and fanatical message. And this was an opportunity to dissuade the Government from a view that legislation may be needed to deal with that emergent issue, and I must say that as an effort to discourage us from that view, this was thoroughly underwhelming.
Different platforms may take different approaches to try and prevent the live streaming of serious criminal offending, but there was unfortunately nothing in that room that would discourage the Government from looking at a legislative solution to try and ensure that much, much quicker action is taken when a live stream involves the relaying of serious criminal offending.
JOURNALIST: Do you have a view on what would be a reasonable time period for a video like that to be shut down?
PORTER: Well, that’s always going to depend on the circumstances. So, when the formulation of a reasonable period of time is used at law, which it has been used for a hundred years in Australia, that’s ultimately a determination on the facts that a court would make. But what I would say is the time that it took Facebook to act with respect to the Christchurch events was totally unreasonable.
JOURNALIST: Is it possible that social media executives could face a jail sentence under these new laws?
PORTER: That is a possibility that we are absolutely considering.
JOURNALIST: And so what would you do if the execs then moved to another country and operated out of there?
PORTER:Well, a large number of large social media platforms are obviously not based in Australia. But it is also the case that our laws have an extra territorial reach. If part of an offence occurs in Australia, and of course part of the factual matrix of a potential offence of live streaming are that Australians are watching the live stream. So, it has a connectivity to Australia, which would underpin the criminal offence. And then of course you would have to deal with the circumstances, just as you have to deal with the circumstances that the prosecution of a company that’s headquartered overseas in other sectors is just something that happens from time to time. It’s not unknown to the law.
But the fact that a company is based in San Francisco, or in Russia, or wherever it might be and it allows, in a totally and unreasonable way, the live streaming of incredibly serious criminal offence, the fact that that might be difficult to police shouldn’t stop the fact of a Government trying to make that unlawful.
Because it’s totally unacceptable to the Australian public not merely the terrorist are weaponising social media as a platform to spread hate and terror, but the children in this country, a 10 year-old for instance, could log on to Facebook and witness mass murder live. And this was an open Facebook page, we were informed today.
JOURNALIST: What did the platforms bring in terms of their opening offer in terms of what they can do to address this problem?
PORTER: Well look, the platforms described, with some level of detail, and we thank them for their presence, the way in which they are endeavouring to remove this type of offending material, particularly the Christchurch material, from online platforms. But the more important discussion and specific discussion that we wanted to have today is how do you respond quicker, or indeed prevent the live streaming of this type of material in the first instance? And look, the answers to those questions were not overly satisfactory.
JOURNALIST: Will you seek a crackdown from the platforms on people using their technology to bust suppression orders in the way that happened with the Cardinal Pell case?
PORTER: Well, it’s a completely different issue and not one that we were dealing with today.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said that this would need to be brought up at the G20. Is there hope that the proposed laws will have an effect on a global scale?
PORTER: Well, I think the answer to that is yes. So, there are a range of issues that the Prime Minister has written to Prime Minister Abe about as to matters of discussion and potential agreement of the G20. But the fact of trying to reach a global solution for a global problem should not prevent an Australian Government from looking at ways to legislate, to make unlawful something as egregious as the live streaming of mass murder to Australians in Australia.
So we are going to look for action now and a legislative response now. And yes, that could well underpin the type of discussions that you would have at the G20. But the idea that at Australian law, there is not a criminal offence that would allow you to potentially act against a company or its executives that committed, after an unreasonable period of time, the live streaming of serious criminal offences, is something that needs to be remedied.
JOURNALIST: Did any of platforms agree to improve what you said were unsatisfactory responses…?
PORTER: [Interrupts] Yeah, it’s a good question. I think that there was an acknowledgement, specifically with respect to the Christchurch scenario, that what occurred there was totally unsatisfactory and that the amount of time that it took to attend to the presence, on Facebook specifically, of the material was way too long. I think that there was acknowledgement that that was the case.
FIFIELD: The platforms did acknowledge that they need to do better. But we weren’t satisfied with their responses as to how they might do better.
JOURNALIST: But they said they would come back to you with anything else?
FIFIELD: Well, that’s part of the purpose of the taskforce which has been established, is to determine specific concrete actions and timeframes for them to act.
But as the Attorney has indicated, we are, in parallel, looking at legislation. So we seek agreement, but we can also go down the legislative path at the same time.
Okay, thank you.