Government could try to force Facebook to identify anonymous users

The federal government could try to force Facebook to collect more credentials from their users and pass it on to authorities if requested to do so, as part of Scott Morrison’s latest confrontation with the social media giants.

This potentially opens the door for the government to consider a controversial plan for Australians to provide 100 points of identification to maintain their social media accounts – a suggestion privacy advocates have condemned.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce suggested last week that Facebook and Twitter could be treated as publishers under Australian law.

Such a classification could see platforms become directly responsible for defamatory or harmful content posted by their users.

At a press conference, Mr Morrison particularly focused on people using anonymous accounts to abuse or harass others, suggesting that the government may be considering measures to force social media companies to identify these users.

“If they don’t want to say who they are, well, they’re not a platform anymore. They are an editor, ”the Prime Minister said.

“I think this problem – and the technology that enables it and the lack of accountability that surrounds it – just isn’t resolved. And you can expect us to look into this even more. “

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher was suspicious when grilled over the ABC proposal Insiders Sunday, but said attorneys general at the federal and state levels were already considering reform of the defamation law.

Mr Fletcher noted a recent High Court case which found the media to be responsible under defamation law for comments posted by users on their Facebook pages.

But he said the government did not believe the law was clear on the responsibility of the social media platform.

“What is Facebook’s responsibility? For example, are they responsible for helping a litigant provide information about the identity of the person who posted the comment? Said Mr. Fletcher.

He said treating social media platforms like publishers was “one of the options available to us.”

“We expect a stronger position from the platforms. For a long time, they have gotten away with taking no responsibility for the content published on their sites ”, declared the Minister.

“What is their responsibility to support a private litigant who brings an action?

Mr. Joyce wrote in an article for Nine Newspapers last week that “the platform must be held accountable. If they allow vice, they pay the price ”.

But despite attacks that made headlines on social media, the government has not shared any concrete details about what such a crackdown might take.

Mr. Fletcher’s comments offered a potential clue.

His suggestion that social media platforms provide information about a user’s identity recalled an April report released by the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs – chaired by the Member of Parliament for Andrew Wallace Coalition – which recommended tightening controls on anonymous accounts.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Photo: AAP

The Domestic Violence Committee report recommended that Australian users be required to provide 100 credentials “to open or maintain an existing social media account,” and that social media companies “must provide these credentials. at the request of the electronic security commissioner, law enforcement or as ordered by a court ”.

Under Australian law, 100 points of identity can include a combination of driver’s license (40 points), birth certificate (70 points), passport (70 points), utility bill (20 points), Medicare card (25 points) or bank statement (25 points).

The committee’s recommendation was heavily criticized when it was published, with digital and privacy experts concerned about the prospect of private companies like Facebook having access to a vast mine of important documents.

Concerns have been raised about possible slippages, hacks or data breaches.

It has also been asked whether Facebook will comply with such an order to collect and store information.

Online Safety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant said during a Senate hearing on the estimates in October 2020 – ahead of the report’s release – that requiring 100 identity points to use social media would ” very difficult ”to manage.

“How do they practically go back and do this?” And part of it has to do with the way the Internet is structured. So it’s not impossible, but it creates a series of other problems, ”she said.

Ms Inman-Grant also asked whether enforcing a ‘real names’ policy on social media would eliminate all abuse and harassment, noting that’ there are a lot of trolls who are not at all interested in hide their identity. So it won’t always be a deterrent.

Samantha Floreani, program manager at Digital Rights Watch, said it was “shortsighted” and a “bad idea”.

“There would be huge privacy and security implications,” she said. The new daily.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we saw Facebook’s biggest data breach. It would be incredibly irresponsible of the government to suggest that people be required to provide this documentation to social media companies. “

Ms Floreani also said she did not believe that imposing a ‘real names’ policy would eliminate all abuse, and that many people – including those from marginalized backgrounds – may have good reasons for wanting to remain anonymous.

“There is this important narrative that anonymous people online are bad people or are hiding something, but it might start by wanting to separate your online life from the real world, which is totally reasonable,” he said. she declared.

“They are also survivors of abuse, LGBTQI people who have not yet dated but want to explore their identity, or people in sensitive areas like law or the media who wish to participate in modern online life but do not cannot do so safely under their real name.

“These people and these circumstances are neglected. It’s really unfair to a lot of people.

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