Cyberspace and critical technologies provide significant opportunities to enhance social and cultural connections between communities in Australia, our region and the world. However, greater connectivity has also enabled extremist, harmful and unsafe online behaviour, conduct and content.
Cyberspace and critical technologies provide new opportunities to cause harm at an individual and societal level. Critical technologies have already been used maliciously to cause harm, such as through the generation of digitised impersonations or hyper-realistic digital falsifications of images, video and audio content ('deep fakes') to spread non-consensual pornography or image-based abuse. Terrorists and violent extremists from across the ideological spectrum also exploit the online environment to spread extreme and harmful propaganda, generate funding, radicalise individuals, and in severe cases, broadcast or incite physical acts of terror and hate.
Australia is committed to working with international partners including governments, industry, academia and civil society to tackle harmful and illegal online content and activity to foster a safe and inclusive online environment.
Engagement with the global community
Australia is an active contributor to international efforts to counter online harms. Through our bilateral and multilateral partnerships, we promote the rights, safety and dignity of individuals within the design, development and deployment of existing and emerging critical technologies. (See Human Rights on page 22; Ethics of Critical Technology on page 26). We develop and share world-leading online safety advice, advocate for a holistic approach to online safety, and support cooperative international efforts to improve outcomes for Australians and the international community.
To the extent possible, Australia seeks to ensure that our domestic legislation, regulatory frameworks and technological protections for the removal and prevention of harmful online content and conduct are consistent with international frameworks, and enable greater international interoperability and cooperation.
Recognising the potential of technology to improve online safety, Australia works with academia and industry across the world to promote innovative applications of critical technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to counter harmful online material.
In addition, we recognise the importance of industry in cooperating with governments to develop and uphold codes of practice, industry standards and regulatory frameworks that support online safety and protect users from illegal and harmful uses of cyberspace and critical technology. Australia will strengthen engagement with the technology industry, and clearly articulate our expectations of them.
Australia's eSafety Commissioner
Establishing the eSafety Commissioner as the world's first national independent regulator for online safety reflects the Australian Government's significant commitment to protecting Australians online. The eSafety Commissioner has legislated powers to remove harmful and illegal online content including cyberbullying, image-based abuse, child sexual abuse material and notify service providers of abhorrent violent material present on their services.
Alongside its regulatory functions, eSafety provides citizen support services, research, early intervention and preventative education as part of a holistic approach to online safety. The eSafety Commissioner coordinates online safety efforts across Australia and plays an important international leadership role through targeted information sharing, coordination, collaboration and capacity building.
Safety by Design
eSafety promotes positive applications of current and emerging critical technologies, and proactively identifies and mitigates threats posed by its misuse through initiatives such as Safety by Design.
This online safety initiative seeks to influence the way that technology is designed, developed and used, shifting the responsibility for safety back onto technology platforms and providers. It provides realistic, actionable and achievable measures to better protect and safeguard users online, highlighting good practice and the tangible steps needed to make user safety considerations a routine element of product development cycles.
We recognise that this may impose additional costs to technology platforms and providers. It will be important that any additional cost is not unequally borne by consumers to ensure equitable access to technology that is safe and secure by design.
We are working with industry and global partners, collaboratively and constructively, to develop a suite of resources and guidance – including a Safety by Design assessment tool – to enable companies to understand potential harms, assess the risks to users on their platforms, and provide ideas and best practice innovation to build safety protection at the front end.
Preventing online child exploitation and abuse
Australia is committed to keeping children safe by preventing online child exploitation and abuse. Offenders are using advanced technologies and exploiting vulnerabilities on the Internet and dark web to harm children. Through multilateral and multi-stakeholder cooperation we work collaboratively to seek high-level commitment and operational engagement by governments, industry and civil society organisations to end online child sexual abuse and protect the rights of children. Australia works closely with international partners including INTERPOL and Europol, and uses global databases and platforms to access specialist expertise in our efforts to counter child abuse globally.
The Department of Home Affairs leads Australia's engagement on efforts to counter child sexual abuse in the Five Countries Partnership (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States). In March 2020, the Five Country Ministers launched the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, which were developed with six leading technology companies and in consultation with industry, civil society and academia. Australia has partnered with the WePROTECT Global Alliance, to drive collective industry action and promote implementation of the Voluntary Principles. Australia's partnership with WePROTECT is enhanced by the eSafety Commissioner's role as a board member.
Preventing terrorist and violent extremist exploitation of the internet
Terrorists and violent extremists from across the ideological spectrum exploit the online environment to spread extreme and harmful propaganda, generate funding, radicalise individuals, and in severe cases, broadcast or incite physical acts of terror and hate. Australia is committed to ensuring that opportunities for terrorist and violent extremist exploitation of the Internet are denied through concerted cooperation between foreign governments, the technology industry and other stakeholders.
Australia works closely with international partners to advocate for an increase in the ambition and pace of the technology industry's efforts to protect users from terrorist and violent extremist material online. These efforts should also ensure that the removal of this material does not frustrate law enforcement activity around the world. Australia and partner governments seek comprehensive and sustained investment from the technology industry to: support research; improve transparency reporting; implement stricter live-streaming controls; reduce content take-down times; and achieve tangible improvements in the operation of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.