Australia passed a law yesterday that threatens jail sentences for executives of social media companies that fail to take down live streams of terror attacks quickly enough.
The bill, proposed in the wake of a deadly mass shooting in New Zealand last month, passed Australia’s upper house yesterday, the last possible day before parliament dissolves for elections next month.
The law makes it a criminal offence for social media platforms to fail to remove “abhorrent violent material” fast enough, punishable by three years’ imprisonment of the executives responsible or a fine of up to 10pc of the company’s annual turnover.
New Zealand police announced yesterday that Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian who stands accused of the Christchurch massacre, would face 50 charges of murder and 39 charges of attempted murder.
Tarrant was due to make his second court appearance via video link today.
Scott Morrison, the prime minister, said the new law would “force social media companies to get their act together and work with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to defuse the threat their technologies can present to the safety of Australians”. But tech firms and Australian lawyers criticised the legislation, saying it was rushed, vague and potentially dangerous to freedom of expression.
The attack on a mosque in Christchurch last month was live-streamed on Facebook for 17 minutes before it was removed. Even after that, recorded video footage spread rapidly online.
Mark Drefus, Labour’s law and order spokesman, called the bill “flimsy and flawed”, described the deadline to pass it as “ridiculous” and promised to review it if Labour takes power, but nevertheless backed it for now.
The Australian Law Council criticised the bill more harshly, saying it could lead to censorship of the media.
“Media freedom and whistle-blowing of atrocities here and overseas have been put at risk,” said Arthur Moses, the council’s president.
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