The Australian government is in the process of updating Australia's online safety laws. The current law protecting Australians on the internet is the Online Safety Act. This Act includes some critical protections for Australians using the internet. For example, it includes restrictions against inappropriate content, such as intimate image-based abuse and cyberbullying protection for children.

The proposed updates to the Online Safety Act look to expand the powers of the eSafety Commissioner, who is in charge of promoting and administering online safety. In what is being highlighted as a world first, the updates are expected to extend the existing cyber abuse scheme to Australian adults and enhance the existing protections for young people.

This article looks at the proposed changes and how these will affect businesses which operate an online service. Examples of impacted businesses include:

  • social media platforms;
  • internet service providers;
  • online content sharing platforms; and
  • businesses that operate forums and video sites.

What is the Online Safety Act?

The Online Safety Act came into force in 2015. It introduced a complaints system for cyberbullying targeting Australian children and for the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. It also saw the creation of the eSafety Commissioner for:

  • promoting online safety for users;
  • administering the complaints systems; and
  • administering the online content scheme under the broadcasting services legislation.

This law has been pivotal in protecting Australians, especially Australian children, in the online space.

However, the internet is an evolving service, so accordingly, the protections require updating. For this reason, the government is considering changes to the current online safety laws.

What Are the Proposed Changes?

The proposed changes will expand the existing Online Safety Act to promote and improve online safety for all Australians. A guide to the key changes which the government is considering is below.

Extending the Cyber Abuse Scheme to Adults

Notably, the changes intend to safeguard adults from cyber abuse in addition to the current protections for children. The scheme allows for the removal of severe online abuse and harassment.

Online Safety Expectations

The government is also looking to give more clarity to social media sites, designated internet services and other relevant electronic services about online safety expectations. These expectations have been designed to reflect the community's expectations and include mandatory reporting requirements.

Extending the Online Cyberbullying Scheme

Under the current law, there is a scheme for cyberbullying protection for children, but it is limited to social media sites. The changes propose extending this scheme to protect children from cyberbullying when using other online services.

Redefining Harmful Content

There are existing laws which define and outlaw harmful content, but over time, the:

  • types of content which can be distributed; and
  • the nature of what makes content harmful

has shifted. Therefore, as part of the Online Safety Act's updates, the government seeks to redefine harmful content, taking into account the current digital space within which businesses and consumers operate.

Enhancing Content Blocking and Take-Down Requirements

The eSafety Commissioner is responsible for issuing requests to block content offensive violent material and issuing take-down notices for image-based abuse, cyber abuse, harmful online content and cyberbullying.

The proposed changes will enhance these powers, including by giving the eSafety Commissioner a specific and targeted power to:

  • direct Australian internet service providers to block extreme violent content; and
  • introduce a consistent 24 hour period for online service providers to act on a take-down notice (down from the previous 48 hour period).

How Will the Changes Affect My Business?

Suppose you operate a business in the online space. In that case, you will need to be aware of any new obligations you have concerning managing online content according to community expectations, acting on blocking or take-down requests from the eSafety Commissioner, and complying with mandatory reporting requirements.

Practical steps which your business can take to prepare for the changes are as follows:

  • read and ensure you understand the proposed changes;
  • design new processes, products and services per the basic online safety expectations;
  • create internal policies on how to respond to blocking directions and take-down notices from the eSafety Commissioner;
  • run training for staff involved in managing your online content on how to apply your new internal online safety policies; and
  • assess whether your business' current child protection tools are sufficient or require updating and if so, update these.

While the proposed changes are still in the process of being finalised, it is a good time to get ahead of the curve and begin preparing your business based on the draft bill. Once the new law is passed and comes into effect, you should cross-check any new procedures, policies, tools and the like against the final version. However, if you act to comply now it will mean a smoother transition at the time of the compliance deadline. In addition to ensuring you are prepared and allowing for a smoother transition, making updates now will help your business align itself with industry best practice.

Key Takeaways

The Online Safety Act's proposed changes aim to increase online safety and improve internet safety for all Australians. These updates will have practical implications for businesses in the online space. For example, by requiring adherence to new requirements for online tools and compliance with 24-hour take-down requirements for harmful content.