Explained: Abhorrent Violent Material Act

Newcastle Criminal Lawyers
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron announced the ‘Christchurch Call to Action’ at the International Summit in Paris last week.

The Christchurch Call follows the events of March 15 2019, where a terrorist killed 51 people across two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Australia has been quick to respond to the challenges posed by online streaming services, having last month enacted new laws that force internet hosts to remove abhorrent violent material from their sites.

The Christchurch Call

The Christchurch Call implores governments and tech giants to take steps to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist online content.

The Christchurch attack was live-streamed on Facebook for 17 minutes. It took Facebook 69 minutes to take down the footage. This delayed response has been labelled ‘totally unreasonable’ by Australia’s Attorney-General Christian Porter.

Which countries/companies have signed on?

The Christchurch Call was signed by 18 countries, including Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan and the UK.

Notably, the US refused to sign on. A statement released by the White House justified their hesitation with a free speech argument.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon all released a joint statement detailing their pledge to address the threat posed by live streaming.

Law reform in Australia

Australia has been swift to act in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, having enacted tough new legislation less than a month after the attack.

Australia passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Act 2019 (the Act)in April.

The Act creates new offences for tech companies and social media platforms who do not remove abhorrent violent material from their sites ‘expeditiously’ or who do not report the content to the Australian Federal Police.

What are the new laws?

The new laws impose an obligation on internet hosts to notify the Australian Federal Police of ‘abhorrent or violent’ material and to remove the aforementioned material from their site ‘expeditiously’.

For the purpose of the offence, abhorrent violent material is defined as:

  • Material that is visual or audio or audio-visual; and
  • Is material that the reasonable person would regard as offensive; and
  • Is produced by a person (or people) who is/are:
    • engaged in the abhorrent conduct; or
    • conspired to engage in abhorrent conduct; or
    • attempted to engage in abhorrent conduct; or
    • aided, abetted, counselled or procured the abhorrent
      violent conduct.

A definition of ‘expeditious’ has not been included in the Act and will therefore become
a question for the jury.

What constitutes abhorrent violent conduct?

For the purpose of the offence, abhorrent violent conduct includes:

  • A terrorist act
  • Murder
  • Attempted
    murder
  • Torture
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping

Penalties

The new laws have extraterritorial reach, meaning that they apply to all internet service providers, regardless of whether they are located in Australia.

The maximum penalty for failing to notify the AFT of the material is $160,000 for individuals and $840,000 for corporations.

The maximum penalty for failing to remove the content expeditiously is $2.1 million for individuals and/or 3 years imprisonment. For corporations, the maximum penalty is $10.5 million or 10% of their annual global turnover.

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