5 February 2024

Australia-US data agreement in force for countering sexual exploitation of children

| James Day
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Mark Dreyfus and his US counterpart Merrick B. Garland shaking hands with an American and Australian flag astride eachother.

The announcement was made by Australia’s Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and his US counterpart Merrick Garland. Photo: IJM Australia.

An agreement between the US and Australian governments has come into effect, raising the requirements for service providers to share data in the fight against serious crimes like the online sexual exploitation of children.

It’s expected to strengthen international cooperation by giving more timely access to data in each country, which may enable agencies to better prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute serious crimes and safeguard national security.

Safeguards and protections reflecting a commitment to human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law in both countries are written into the agreement to ensure any data collected meets strict privacy and oversight requirements.

The announcement by Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and US Attorney-General Merrick Garland came as social media CEOs took the stand to answer questions from a Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC.

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International Justice Mission (IJM) Australia’s Briony Camp says we are witnessing an arm wrestle between multinational tech corporations and governments over online child safety around the world.

“The CEOs of Meta, X, TikTok, Snap and Discord will soon face questions about their actions or inactions to prevent, detect, and report what they are doing to address the online sexual exploitation of children on their platforms.

“Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant has been asking these same questions over the past year by issuing transparency notices requiring companies to explain how they are meeting Australia’s basic online safety expectations.”

eSafety uncovered the neglect of basic safety features able to prevent the sexual exploitation of children on their platforms, with some even refusing to report how they manage the issue.

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Ms Camp, the Australian Policy and Campaigns lead of the world’s largest anti-slavery organisation, says tech sector regulation moves the entire industry and is essential in this effort.

She cites the example of Australia’s Basic Online Safety Expectations, which the Federal Government is strengthening in a review lasting until 16 February 2024.

“The best way to protect children from online sexual abuse is to prevent it from occurring in the first place, and a key form of prevention is ensuring tech platforms are safe by design – making it harder for offenders to exploit children online.

“Industry expectations already require tech companies to ensure the ‘best interests of the child’ are a primary consideration in the design and operation of their services, but clearly they are falling short.

“IJM is calling for a clear framework that sets out the obligations of tech companies to provide digital evidence to law enforcement during investigations related to child sexual abuse material as part of Australia’s basic online safety expectations.”

It was signed by the Australian and US governments on 15 December 2021, supported by each Party’s domestic legislative frameworks, which includes the former’s Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act and the latter’s Schedule 1 of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth).

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