Sharing of ‘abhorrent violent material’ now an offence under new laws

By Cameron Abbott, Michelle Aggromito and Rebecca Gill

Governments around the world are imposing more responsibilities on tech providers to deal with online harms. In response to the recent attacks in Christchurch, in which a gunman livestreamed on Facebook his attack on a mosque, the Australian Government recently enacted the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Act 2019 (Cth) (Act). The Act, which commenced on 6 April 2019, was pushed through swiftly and has a broad reach.

Under the Act, internet, content and hosting service providers must refer details of any ‘abhorrent violent material’ that records or streams ‘abhorrent violent conduct’ to the Australian Federal Police. Abhorrent violent material is material that is audio, visual or audio-visual, and that records or streams ‘abhorrent violent conduct’. Such conduct includes acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping.

Content and hosting service providers must also remove or cease to host abhorrent violent material ‘expeditiously’, which is left undefined in the Act. It is also immaterial whether the content or hosting service is provided within or outside Australia.

The Act also imposes significant criminal penalties on individuals and companies for failing to meet their obligations. For instance, the penalty for a company for failing to delete such violent material is either a fine of up to $10.5 million, or a fine of up to 10 per cent of the company’s annual turnover, whichever is the greater.

The Act will have wide ramifications for tech service providers and any such organisations that may fall under the Act’s scope should implement and check their reporting and screening processes in order to avoid committing an offence under these new laws. As it stands, many such providers are not in any position to comply with these laws.

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