26 September 2023

eSafety rejects online safety codes from industry

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Australia’s eSafety Commissioner has rejected two of eight online safety codes drafted by the online industry as they fail to provide appropriate community safeguards to deal with illegal and harmful content online.

Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the accepted mandatory codes would cover five sections of the online industry and operate under Australia’s Online Safety Act 2021.

“The codes require industry to take adequate steps to reduce the availability of seriously harmful online content, such as child sexual abuse and pro-terror material,” Ms Inman Grant said.

She said eSafety would now move to develop mandatory and enforceable industry standards for Relevant Electronic Services (RES), covering dating sites, online games and instant messaging, and Designated Internet Services (DIS) covering apps, websites, and file and photo storage services like Apple iCloud and Microsoft One Drive.

Ms Inman Grant said her decision not to register the DIS and RES industry codes was due to their failure to provide appropriate community safeguards – which is a requirement for registration.

“The RES and DIS codes just simply don’t go far enough in protecting Australian users, particularly children,” Ms Inman Grant said

“We’re talking about the worst-of-the-worst online content here, often illegal content, including child sexual abuse material and pro-terror content,” she said.

“eSafety and indeed the wider community, expect that these companies should take reasonable steps to prevent their services from being used to store and distribute this horrendous content.”

Ms Inman Grant said the need for action was increasing, “in the first three months of this year, we have seen a 285 per cent increase in reports into our office of child sexual exploitation and abuse material compared to the same time last year.”

She said that following eSafety’s final feedback on the codes in February, the DIS code still didn’t require file and photo storage services like iCloud, Google Drive, or OneDrive to detect and flag known child sexual abuse material.

“We know that online storage services like these are used to store and share child sexual abuse material and pro-terror material between offenders,” the Commissioner said.

“And the RES code also doesn’t require email services and some partially encrypted messaging services to detect and flag this material either, even though we know there are proactive steps they can take to stem the already rampant sharing of illegal content.”

Ms Inman Grant has reserved her decision on a third code, the draft Search Engines code covering online search, over concerns it was no longer fit for purpose following recently announced developments in the field of generative AI and its integration into search engine functions.

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