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Social media platforms regulated as telecom companies under discussion in Australia

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A joint parliamentary committee is currently examining whether social media platforms should be regulated as providers of transport services given the amount of communications and content sent through them.

Various experts submitted to the committee that social media platforms like Facebook are of such magnitude and are so particularly relevant to the issue of online child exploitation that they should be given further consideration. like being regulated as providers of transportation services.

The considerations are part of the Joint Parliamentary Enforcement Commission investigation into Australia’s child exploitation law enforcement capacities.

At a joint parliamentary hearing on Friday, Meta told the committee he believed Australia’s law enforcement framework working with social media platforms to detect child pornography was already sufficient, and that the additional classification could be redundant.

“We have a dedicated portal in place, we have a dedicated team to liaise with law enforcement, and then we can disclose what we call basic subscriber information data pretty quickly with that. process. We obviously have emergency channels in the event of a threat to life; either we disclose proactively or law enforcement can ask us for help with these emergency processes, ”said Mia Garlick, Director of Public Policy for Meta Australia New Zealand Pacific Islands.

“So I guess where from [Meta] rests in terms of our engagement with law enforcement, we believe that there is already some sort of good way to achieve this and so maybe there is no need to tinker with the definitions of the law. on telecommunications when we have the capacity to work constructively through existing frameworks.

While the Online Safety Commissioner said last month that social media platforms have mainly done a good job of removing heinous violent content, he noted in his submission to the committee that the approach to detect and remove Child pornography content is different in part because of this type of content. mainly distributed through private communication channels.

The government agency also said that as more social media platforms move towards encrypted communications, this dynamic could indeed create “digital hiding places.” He shared his concern that the platforms could also claim that they are exempt from any responsibility for security because they cannot act on what they cannot see.

ESafety’s online content manager Alex Ash told the committee yesterday afternoon that a drift to encrypted communications by major social media platforms would make it harder to investigate serious sexual abuse and exploitation children online. He noted, however, that in instances where eSafety was able to detect such content on social media platforms, the platforms were cooperative and responded quickly to such reported content.

To address these concerns about the growing trend towards encrypted communications, the committee on Friday called for a consultation on the merits of communications to and from minors between the ages of 13 and 18 who are exempt from point encryption. technically, as well as whether such a framework was technically possible. .

Meta security chief Antigone Davis said it might be possible to create a partial encryption system, but she believes it would come at the cost of undermining the encryption for others to sign up. on the platform. In counterpoint, Davis said his company believes it would be possible to build protections into an encrypted service through mechanisms such as scrambling images, preventing people from contacting minors, the ability for users making it easier to report child pornography, and using unencrypted information to catch people who proliferate child pornography.

“While they may obscure part of what they’re doing, what we’re finding is that they leave traces, they leave what you might think of as prompts. So, for example, you can see people having this kind of interest, provoked sexualized comments under minors, or you can see what will look like a harmless collection of many photos of minors that appear harmless … so there are opportunities to actually use those breadcrumbs, ”Davis said.

Communications Alliance Program Management Director Christiane Gillespie-Jones, who also appeared before the committee, presented a slightly different picture of how encrypted communications might affect law enforcement’s ability to detect the child pornography material.

While Gillespie-Jones agreed with Meta’s sentiment that encrypted communications were important to user privacy, after being asked about its impact on the detection of child pornography, Gillespie-Jones acknowledged the possibility that encrypted communications may render certain child pornography material untraceable.

Regarding the additional difficulty encrypted communications pose in detecting such material, Gillespie-Jones said this is currently unquantifiable.

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