The Online Safety Act 2021 will commence on 23 January 2022.
The Online Safety Act 2021 strengthens the eSafety Commissioner's existing powers to deal with cyberbullying material, harmful content and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. The Act also introduces a world-first cyber abuse scheme for adults that will assist victims of seriously harmful online abuse, and establish rapid website blocking powers that may be used during an online crisis event.
Until the Online Safety Act 2021 commences, Australia's online safety framework is set out in the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 and the Online Content Scheme, contained in Schedules 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. This framework empowers the eSafety Commissioner to support individuals and promote online safety for all Australians, including children, women, older Australians and other vulnerable members of the community.
The eSafety Commissioner administers a complaints service for Australian children who experience serious cyberbullying. Under the scheme, the eSafety Commissioner has the power to investigate complaints about serious cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child and may require the removal of material that is harmful to a child.
The Online Safety Act 2021 will allow the eSafety Commissioner to investigate complaints about seriously harmful online abuse directed at an Australian adult for the first time. This scheme mirrors the similar protections in the cyberbullying scheme, however with a higher threshold of 'serious harm'.
Online services that do not comply with a notice to remove adult cyber-abuse material may be subject to a civil penalty of up to 500 penalty units.
Find out more about serious cyber-abuse.
Since 2018, the eSafety Commissioner has administered an image-based abuse scheme, which responds to people who share, or threaten to share, intimate images without consent. Victims of this type of abuse are able to contact the eSafety Commissioner directly to seek help.
Online Content Scheme
Illegal and offensive online content is regulated by the Online Content Scheme, through a complaints-based mechanism. The scheme is designed to protect consumers, particularly children, from exposure to inappropriate or harmful material.
The regulation of prohibited and potential prohibited online content in Australia is based on the National Classification Scheme.
Content is assessed on the basis of public complaints to the eSafety Commissioner.
Where content is hosted in Australia and is found by the eSafety Commissioner to be prohibited, the Commissioner may require the relevant content service provider to remove the content from their service. For content hosted overseas that is found to be prohibited, the URL to the material is added to the eSafety Commissioner's prohibited URLs list.
From January 2022, the Commissioner will also have take-down powers for international services in relation to class 1 material in some circumstances. This includes:
- child sexual abuse material
- detailed instruction or promotion of crime or violence
- gratuitous, exploitative and offensive depictions of violence or sexual violence
- material that advocates carrying out a terrorist act.
In addition, regardless of where the content is hosted, if the Commissioner considers the content to be of a sufficiently serious nature, it must notify an Australian police force.
Information, including instructions for making a complaint to the Commissioner, is available at the eSafety Hotline website. Complaints about illegal and offensive content may be lodged by completing the online form at www.esafety.gov.au/complaints-and-reporting/offensive-and-illegal-content-complaints.
Rapid website blocking arrangements
The Online Safety Act 2021 will provide for rapid website-blocking to protect Australians from exposure to extremely harmful material such as live-streaming of terrorist attacks.
The rapid website-blocking power allows the eSafety Commissioner to respond to online crisis events by requiring internet service providers block access to material depicting, promoting, inciting or instructing in abhorrent violent conduct for a short time.
Programs, prevention, education and awareness
The eSafety Commissioner has a wide range of functions to promote online safety for Australians, play a national leadership role in online safety education, run programs, and conduct research about online safety.