Australia blocks websites hosting horrific content

Australian e-safety commissioner Julie Inman Grant has instructed domestic internet service providers to block five websites known for hosting horrific content.

Maiden voyage

The new law, first of its kind, was introduced and developed after March’s live-streamed terror attack in Christchurch. 

Authorities discovered several websites still hosting the Christchurch video, as well as other violent content. They deemed five sites unfit, and have blocked them from the Australian internet.

In March, as video files of the shooting continued to proliferate across the web, Australian telecommunications companies independently began to block domains hosting the content.

Shifting the blame

The new law creates a framework with which authorities, rather than companies, can block the proliferation of grotesque material. Any blocked website “need only to remove the illegal content to have the block against them lifted,” said Grant.

The court-issued injunctions hold both websites and ISPs financially and criminally accountable for not abiding by the block list. 

Most of the sites hosting restricted content are small, making them difficult to locate and prosecute. Internet providers, however, have a large incentive to abide by the ban list. An ISP blocked website would be inaccessible in Australia without a private provider or a VPN (virtual private network).

General concerns

Many public voices have naturally expressed concern over the process. Punitive responsibility for sharing illegal content has historically fallen on the uploaders. In most other states, Facebook and Google complain, it still does. Focusing on hosts and ISPs spreads the liability to the companies that provide internet access, making the provision also a restriction.