A US-Australian agreement came into force today, which raises the requirements of service providers holding electronic data for the purpose of countering serious crime including the online sexual exploitation of children.
The agreement strengthens international cooperation by requiring more timely access by law enforcement to data held by electronic service providers in each country to better enable agencies to prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute serious crimes and safeguard national security.
The announcement by the Hon Mark Dreyfus KC, MP and his counterpart, US Attorney-General Merrick B. Garland comes on the eve of social media CEOs fronting a US Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington DC.
International Justice Mission (IJM) Australia’s Policy and Campaigns Lead, Briony Camp, noted the importance of today’s announcement as a contribution to actions being taken in both Australia and the US this week.
“The CEOs of Meta, X, TikTok, Snap and Discord will soon face questions about their actions or inactions to prevent, detect, and report what they are doing to address the online sexual exploitation of children on their platforms,” Ms Camp said.
“Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant has been asking these same questions over the past year by issuing transparency notices requiring companies to explain how they are meeting Australia’s basic online safety expectations.”
eSafety has uncovered neglect of basic safety features that could prevent the online sexual exploitation of children on their platforms, and in some cases, a refusal to report how they deal with the problem.
IJM is the world’s largest anti-slavery organisation, which exists to strengthen justice systems to protect vulnerable populations from violence. The organisation has a specific focus on protecting children from online sexual exploitation and abuse.
“Around the world, we are witnessing an arm wrestle between multinational tech corporations and national governments over online child safety,” Ms Camp added.
“The best way to protect children from online sexual abuse is to prevent it from occurring in the first place, and a key form of prevention is ensuring tech platforms are safe by design – making it harder for offenders to exploit children online.
“That’s why tech sector regulation that moves the entire industry, like Australia’s basic online safety expectations of tech companies, is essential in the fight against online sexual exploitation of children.”
The Australian Government is currently in the process of strengthening Australia’s Basic Online Safety Expectations, with a review underway until 16 February 2024.
“Industry expectations already require tech companies to ensure the ‘best interests of the child’ are a primary consideration in the design and operation of their services, but clearly they are falling short,” Ms Camp said.
“IJM is calling for a clear framework that sets out the obligations of tech companies to provide digital evidence to law enforcement during investigations related to child sexual abuse material as part of Australia’s basic online safety expectations.”
“Law enforcement must have timely access to electronic data to assist online child sexual abuse investigations in real time and bring children to safety, wherever they are in the world.”