The balancing act that is internet governance

Stuart Corner

Engaging with the online world is a key priority for the Australian Government and it’s becoming more confident about how to regulate the internet, argues Australia’s Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher.

“It needs to assert its sovereign right to make laws protecting Australians and regulate interaction in a way that keeps people safe,” Mr Fletcher said.

Speaking with the Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation director, Professor Lyria Bennett Moses, Mr Fletcher said the controversial Online Safety Act, which passed through Parliament last June and became law in January, was a delicate balancing act and that the bar above which the eSafety Commissioner could require content to be taken down had been set appropriately.

Experience tells us that any attempt to regulate the internet is contentious, and creates significant problems for government, generally through accusations of regulatory overreach.

“It needs to be content or a statement that an ordinary person, a reasonable person, would regard as menacing, harassing, or offensive, and as intended to cause harm to an individual,” he added. “So that’s quite a high bar.”

In launching his new book, Governing in the Internet Age, in an Australian Society for Computers and the Law Webinar, Mr Fletcher said his primary aim was to demonstrate that the internet changed everything; it changed everything for government; and that it took governments a little while to respond and to build confidence in how they responded.

Professor Bennett Moses said the issues around the Online Safety Act brought together three themes: the rule of law, transparency in law making and democratic engagement.

Mr Fletcher said in the case of Internet legislation, the Australian Government was seeking to regulate multinational corporations, and this raised “some interesting challenges”.

“In asserting a sovereign right to make laws protecting Australians, we also need to think about the fact that these are global corporations,” he said. “Australians are using services and purchasing products delivered by a business that may have no physical presence in Australia and may have no employees in Australia.

“So, I think you start with the well-established principles of how democratically-elected governments operate. And, you do things like sharing exposure drafts and giving people the chance to comment.” was a media partner for the Governing in the Internet Age webinar, part of the Australian Society for Computers and the Law’s Decision Makers Series. The conversation was also sponsored by Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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