Morrison government’s Online Safety Bill slammed as ‘blatant censorship’

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Photos: YouTube, Satya Tiwari/Pixabay

The Greens want amendments to the Morrison government’s controversial Online Safety Bill after “serious” censorship concerns from LGBTQ and sex worker advocates.

The government’s draft laws would beef up the powers of Australia’s eSafety commissioner to target bullying and harassment of both children and adults online.

The draft Online Safety Bill increases the maximum penalty for using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence from three to five years jail.

It also cracks down on image-based abuse, commonly referred to as “revenge porn”.

The Bill also allows the rapid blocking of violent, terrorist and other harmful online content.

However LGBTQ, sex worker and civil liberty advocates are alarmed by Part 9 of the government’s draft Online Safety Bill.

It would allow “arbitrary” targeting and blocking of adult online content with a rating of R18+ or X18+, they warn.

They warn the Bill goes too far by giving the eSafety commissioner broad powers to issue removal notices targeting legal, consensual adult material with little oversight.

In a Senate inquiry submission, the Victorian Pride Lobby said the provisions would negatively impact LGBTQ adult content creators, who already battle disproportionate censorship online.

“Part 9 of the Bill appears to be an attempt to implement a classification-based censorship scheme,” they wrote.

Such a scheme is “entirely unrelated to protecting Australians from online abuse,” the Lobby argues.

“The effect of these provisions is that any sexually explicit content will be subject to unilateral removal from Australian internet hosting service providers.

“This unfairly and unreasonably targets legal and consensual media for arbitrary removal.

“Of particular concern is the immediacy and permanency of removal notices.

“The content owner, or Australian small business operating the service, is not given any warning, chance to respond, or even notification of a removal notice.

“The objective of the Bill is ‘to improve online safety for Australians’… Censorship of consensual adult material does not [achieve this].”

The Pride Lobby said half of Australians working in adult media identify as LGBTQ.

Government bill ‘doesn’t distinguish moral panic from online harm’

Peak sex worker group Scarlet Alliance also fear the impact of the new provisions on Australian sex workers, who work and advertise online.

The Alliance is alarmed the Bill gives the eSafety Commissioner “power to investigate at will and issue [removal] notices as they ‘think fit’.”

“In concentrating power in a single unelected office, it silos power and control over perceiving and acting upon harm in a way that lacks transparency or accountability,” they wrote in a submission.

The federal government of the day appoints the eSafety commissioner.

A spokesperson for the communications minister said “the material that could be removed under the proposed Online Safety Bill is consistent with the current online content scheme.”

“Nothing, in this regard, has changed,” they said.

“The approach of eSafety has always been to prioritise content depicting child sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as material that incites, instructs or promotes terrorism or violent extremism.

“This approach would not change under the new act.”

However advocates argue the new censorship powers are expansive and lack accountability.

Jarryd Bartle is policy and campaigns advisor at the Eros Association, Australia’s top adult industry body.

Writing in the Guardian, he said assurances from the minister and eSafety commissioner they “don’t want to police the sexual tastes of Australians and wish to focus on online harms” isn’t good enough.

“The bill as drafted doesn’t reflect these wishes,” he said.

“Under Part 9 of the bill, any online content which could meet the film classifications of R18+, X18+ or Refused Classification are susceptible to removal notices online including social media websites, app stores and even the deletion of links from search engines,” he wrote.

“This includes imagery of consensual sex between adults, as well as naked selfies.

“The bill as drafted is blatant censorship, with the eSafety commissioner empowered to strip porn, kink and sexually explicit art from the internet following a complaint.

“Nothing in the scheme [is] capable of distinguishing moral panic from genuine harm.”

Greens want amendments to Online Safety Bill

Greens Senator Janet Rice told the Senate last week her party supports the Bill’s intentions. However she said the Greens want amendments to address “serious flaws”.

These include a review process and other changes to “reduce the risk of consensual sexually explicit content being removed,” she said.

Senator Rice said the Bill must not “adversely affect advertising of legitimate and lawful sex services and products and sexual health programs and providers.”

“The Greens support the intent of these bills to protect the safety of people online, particularly women and children,” she said.

“It is absolutely undeniable that this is a serious issue that we need to address.

“But we do not believe these bills are a well-designed suite of measures to address [this].

“Given the rush in the development of these bills, that’s probably not a surprise.

“This bill, in the way it is currently drafted, has incredibly serious flaws with major unintended consequences on rafts of people [including] LGBTIQ people and sex workers.”

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