New law proposal threatens online freedom and democracy in Australia

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The Australian government is facing a backlash from civil society groups, digital platforms, and human rights advocates over a proposed law that would severely restrict online expression and access to information.

The Online Safety Bill 2023, which is currently before the parliament, would grant sweeping powers to the eSafety Commissioner to order the removal of any online content deemed harmful, offensive, or inappropriate, without any judicial oversight or public interest exemption.

The bill would also require digital companies to adopt a code of conduct that would oblige them to censor speech based on broad, vague, and far-reaching directives from the government. The code of conduct would apply to any online service that allows users to communicate or share information, including social media, messaging apps, news websites, blogs, podcasts, and online games.

Critics of the bill argue that it would violate the right to freedom of expression and information, as well as the principle of net neutrality, which ensures equal and non-discriminatory access to online content and services. They warn that the bill would create a chilling effect on online speech, stifle dissent and debate, and undermine democracy and accountability in Australia.

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