Australian privacy advocates have raised concerns about a new Online Safety Act that is currently in front of the country’s Parliament. The Act would grant much broader powers to the country’s eSafety Commissioner, who is tasked with cracking down on various forms of online abuse, terrorist content, and other cyberthreats.
The problem, according to privacy advocates, is that while those goals may be admirable, the law is already quite vague about how the Commissioner is supposed to achieve them. As it stands, the eSafety Commissioner is not an elected government official. The new bill would give the Commissioner the ability to make major policy changes that dramatically change the way people use the internet, and to do so without any meaningful form of civilian oversight.
Most notably, the bill would allow the Commissioner to implement a “restricted access system” to control who has access to what types of content. The law is not specific about what such a system would entail, but the Commissioner could theoretically use that power to impose biometric age gates on certain types of content without going through the usual legislative channels. For example, adults that want to view pornography might be asked to upload identity documents and submit to a facial recognition scan before accessing that material.
In that regard, it is worth noting that Australia’s Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has previously asked Parliament to use facial recognition to prevent minors from gaining access to pornographic content online. Such a law would use facial recognition for age verification.
Australia’s Privacy Commissioner, on the other hand, has argued that law enforcement agencies should be barred from using facial recognition technology until stronger privacy protections have been put in place. In the meantime, some technology providers have tried to develop solutions (such as Yoti’s Age Scan) that can verify someone’s age while still protecting their personal information.
March 8, 2021 – by Eric Weiss