- CANBERRA, AAP – Tech giants want to set their own rules for what ASIO calls the “echo chambers of hate”.
But federal parliament’s intelligence and security committee chair Liberal James Paterson has told a public hearing on Friday he is unwilling to “outsource” values and limits to Silicon Valley.
One-third of the world’s population is now on Facebook, while the Christchurch mosque shooter found his inspiration on YouTube and live-streamed his killing of 51 people just over two years ago.
Head of the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre Rachael Falk said Australian law has failed to keep up as populations move online and seek like-minded individuals and groups.
“There is a social, moral and legal role for big tech to be playing here,” she said.
“Content is rich in plots, plans and people and they have the key to that.”
Deakin University’s Professor Michele Grossman, who works with federal agencies, warned of the “halo effect” of banning extremist artefacts and material, making it more attractive to curious youth.
Ms Falk said Australia was at an “inflection point” in deciding what intelligence agencies should have access to and what the police should do.
The cyber research hub said 12 of 24 of Australia’s far-right groups are internationally connected online and use a “leaderless model” to recruit and train new followers.
She said when regulation steps in, groups move to fringe apps and to jurisdictions where they’re not restricted.
Facebook moving to encrypted messaging was “wrong” and would stop active investigations, she said.
“Telegram is for the most part the messaging group of choice for criminal groups.”
Parler is another microblogging and social networking “free speech” service that is home to far-right extremists, anti-semitism and violent conspiracy movement QAnon.
Over 95 per cent of the ASIO’s most dangerous counter-terrorism targets use encrypted communications, and encryption impacts intelligence coverage in nine out of ASIO’s 10 priority cases, according to the Home Affairs Department.
While powers have been in place for two decades to counter the extremist Islamic threat, the federal police on Thursday identified gaps in the law they say prevents officers disrupting ultra-nationalist violence.
The possession of a symbol could become an offence, without any proof intention to commit a terrorist act.
Richard Wilson SC, co-chair of the Law Council of Australia’s national criminal law committee, reminded the inquiry that the Richardson review just two years ago urged “rigorous testing” of claims by police and intelligence agencies of gaps in the law.
“Proof of such connection is a deliberate safeguard which limits the scope of criminality, and associated police powers,” Mr Wilson said.
“Merely symbols and insignia shouldn’t be criminalised.”
He said possessing an ISIS flag or Nazi memorabilia may be an indicator the person should be looked into, but it would be very surprising if someone was planning an attack and only had in their possession an ISIS flag.
Intelligence and law enforcement chiefs say the major threat from Sunni-led extremists remains but also warned of the rapidly growing threat from right-wing groups.
The Australian government last month listed the UK-based neo-Nazi Sonnenkrieg Division as a terrorist organisation.
Professor Grossman said Australia may need to lower its threshold for proscribing violent extremist groups in line with the UK and US, but was fortunate not to be at that point yet.
SKD was the first far-right organisation to join Australia’s list of banned organisations under the criminal code.
Google, Facebook and Twitter will front the inquiry later on Friday.
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