Online Safety Act to tackle child sex abuse and cyber bullying

Social media giants, online bullies and sex offenders have been put on notice, with Australia’s eSafety commissioner granted greater powers to police the internet.

The Online Safety Act 2021 (Cth), which passed parliament in 2021, officially came into effect on 23 January 2022. Reforms include a world first scheme to take down cyber abuse and better protect children and adults from online bullying.

The eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, has also been given authority to order online platforms to remove the worst of the worst content. This includes child sexual abuse material, irrespective of where it is hosted. In addition, the laws modify a scheme already in place for reporting the online bullying of children, broadening who they apply to beyond social media platforms, and shortening the removal timeframe to 24 hours from 48 hours.

The main changes

  • Broadening of the Cyberbullying Scheme for children: harms that occur on services other than social media now captured.
  • Update to the Image-Based Abuse Scheme that allows eSafety to seek the removal of intimate images or videos shared online without the consent of the person shown.
  • Creates a world-first Adult Cyber Abuse Scheme.
  • Gives eSafety new powers to require internet service providers to block access to material showing abhorrent, violent conduct such as terrorist acts.

  • Gives the existing Online Content Scheme new powers to regulate illegal and restricted content no matter where it’s hosted.
  • Brings app distribution services and search engines into the remit of the new Online Content Scheme.
  • Introduces Basic Online Safety Expectations for online service providers.
  • Halves the time that online service providers have to respond to an eSafety removal notice – it is now 24 hours.

The Cyberbullying Scheme

The Cyberbullying Scheme allows individuals to make a complaint about cyberbullying material that targets a child (under 18). A report must be made to the relevant online service provider before a complaint is made.

Cyberbullying material means online communication to or about a child that is seriously threatening, seriously intimidating, seriously harassing or seriously humiliating.

It can include posts, comments, emails, messages, memes, images and videos.

eSafety can issue a notice to the online service provider requiring removal of the cyberbullying material. Where providers fail to comply with notices, eSafety can take enforcement action such as injunctive action or seek civil penalties (fines).

For child safe organisations, the Cyberbullying Scheme means you can refer individuals (child or their parents, as appropriate) to the eSafety Commissioner to make a complaint if cyberbullying occurs.

Image-Based Abuse Scheme

The changes to the Image-Based Abuse Scheme give eSafety the power to issue notices for the removal of intimate images or videos shared online, without the consent of the person shown.

There is a general prohibition on image-based abuse – sharing or threatening to share intimate images or videos online without consent – which means any person may make a complaint about breaches of this prohibition. For child safe organisations, this means you could yourselves make a complaint, should image-based abuse come to light in your organisation. In these circumstances, we would also encourage organisations to consider the rights of the child to be involved in decisions that affect them, and refer organisations to the Child Safe Standards.

Basic Online Safety Expectations

The Basic Online Safety Expectations put into law what the Australian Government now expects from online service providers. eSafety is, of course, the main priority of the Basic Online Safety Expectations, however, the tech industry is also encouraged to be more transparent about their safety features, policies and practices.

Expectations of online service providers include:

  • taking reasonable steps to be safe for their users;
  • minimising bullying, abuse and other harmful activity and content; and
  • having clear and easy-to-follow ways for people to lodge complaints about unacceptable use.

For child safe organisations, this means:

  • When you are designing or implementing online tools as part of your service offering, you should consider these basic expectations, and how you meet them.
  • When dealing with third parties providing online services, you should enquire as to how the potential contractor meets these expectations.

How we can help

Still want to know more about online safety and the eSafety Commissioner? Look out for information on these topics from Moores in February.

If you would like any more information about what the changes to the Online Safety Act 2021 mean for your organisation or steps you can take to protect children from online harm, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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