Saying that the new powers are unnecessary and may inadvertently interfere with “legitimate matters of political dissent or struggle,” Australia’s peak body for lawyers has joined civil liberty groups, journalists, and advocacy groups in sounding the alarm on proposed laws to criminalize the accessing of violent extremist material. These groups have all joined forces to sound the alarm on the proposed laws.
The federal government is working on enacting new criminal offenses that would make it illegal to possess or control violent extremist content while utilizing a carriage service. This is part of an effort to increase the government’s ability to combat terrorism.
The government believes there is a loophole in the current law, which only criminalizes the accessing of such data if it is done in connection with a planned terrorist act. The goal of this legislation is to rectify what the government believes to be this breach in the law.
Images and films depicting terrorist occurrences, manifestos and other forms of propaganda, as well as instructional material on how to construct a bomb, carry out attacks, or make hazardous chemicals are some examples of the kind of content that the government believes should be covered under this initiative.
However, the Law Council of Australia has issued a warning that the newly created offenses are pointless and either ought to be eliminated or drastically altered.
It was stated there are already statutes in place in the commonwealth that address extremist content that “are sufficient to capture the type of conduct against which the bill seeks to introduce new offenses.”
The council issued a warning to the government about the “need to proceed with caution” when it came to the creation of new offenses for just accessing or holding material. They did this by referring to shifting tendencies on social media, where “scrolling” through digital platforms has made inadvertent ingestion more widespread.
The explanatory memorandum for the law states that the only people who will have committed an offense are those who were reckless to the nature of such information. This is something that will protect anyone who “accidentally comes across violent extremist material on the internet without any warning from the context,” according to the memorandum.
“Such offenses, without requiring proof that a person viewed or accessed content for nefarious purposes, are highly extraordinary measures,” the council said. “Normally, these measures are reserved for material that has a very low likelihood of being accessed unwittingly, and involves the infliction of significant harm upon vulnerable persons.”
The council also issued a warning that the expansive definition of “violent extremism material” posed a threat of criminalizing access to information pertaining to “legitimate matters of political dissent or struggle.”
“The Law Council expresses concern that the broad definition of violent extremist material may inadvertently capture persons who access or view so-called ‘manifestos’ which are directed to legitimate matters of political dissent or struggle,” it added. “The Law Council expresses concern that the broad definition of violent extremist material may inadvertently capture persons who access or view violent extremist material.” “This could include, for instance, writings that call for the overthrow of oppressive governmental regimes in foreign countries; or the efforts of particular groups or regions in foreign countries to achieve independence as sovereign nations,” the author writes.
The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network stated that the measure went farther than comparable regulations in the UK, while Liberty Victoria stated that new laws were unneeded. In order to comply with these regulations, the authorities are required to demonstrate that the material in question was accessed with the intent to “intentionally or recklessly encourage or assist in the commission, preparation, as well as instigation of various acts of terrorism.”
The spokesman explained that “the principle of legality is that laws with severe consequences should be clear and certain enough to ordinary people about what behavior crosses the line.” “The principle of legality is that law should be clear and certain enough to ordinary people about what behavior crosses the line,”
“The proposed definition for violent extremist content is longer than a page and does not include a condition that the author must have the correct intention. This cannot be said with absolute certainty.
The Right to Know alliance in Australia, which is comprised of several media organizations, expressed its fear that the laws could have repercussions that were not intended.
The coalition stated that “Journalists and their editorial and support staff may receive violent extremist material as part of their work,” for instance in the form of footage of an extremist demonstration given by a source. However, the coalition believes that this should not give rise to liability.
“It is clear that the goal of the amendments that are being proposed under Schedule 2 is to prevent the promotion of violent extremism; however, as they are currently drafted, the provisions go beyond this, so that even use that attempts to counteract extremism may be affected.”
Mark Dreyfus, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, stated that the idea was still undergoing review by the legislative joint committee. The government will “closely consider any recommendations made by the inquiry to improve the legislation,” according to the spokeswoman for the administration.