Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has social media giants including Facebook and WhatsApp in his sights in the global fight against terrorism, flagging a crackdown on “ungoverned spaces” online.
In the clearest signal yet that Australia will, like Britain, pressure social media companies to do more to cooperate with governments to combat would-be terrorists who are organising online, Mr Turnbull has declared the rule of law must apply online as it does in the “analogue, offline world”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the rule of law must not be compromised by “ungoverned spaces” online. Photo: Patrick Sison
In confronting Islamist terrorism, Mr Turnbull said, it was important to recognise terrorists wanted to divide Australians, but that in what was largely a “war within Islam”, it was important to work with moderate Muslim leaders like Indonesian President Joko Widodo and community leaders at home.
Mr Turnbull spoke at a meeting of the Liberal Party’s federal council in Sydney in which he also highlighted his government’s success in passing the Gonski 2.0 needs-based school funding reforms, despite tight negotiations with the Senate crossbench.
Malcolm Turnbull during question time this week. Photo: Andrew Meares
The push to crack down on so-called ungoverned spaces will not see the government pursue a so-called “backdoor” into online platforms but, rather, seek greater co-operation from tech companies.
The issue will be a key agenda item at a forthcoming meeting of “five eyes” countries in Canada, which Attorney-General George Brandis will attend. It will also feature prominently at a meeting of the leaders of the G20 countries in Germany early next month.
The “five eyes” partnership is a close intelligence-sharing relationship between five anglophone countries: Australia, the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
His comments come after a series of terror attacks in the West that have been coordinated online and after British Prime Minister Theresa May said there was too much tolerance of extremism online.
“When talking about rule of law, we have to recognise that their can be no ungoverned spaces. Ungoverned spaces pose great risks,” Mr Turnbull told the party faithful, referring to a speech on Friday night by former CIA director and General David Petraeus – in which the former Iraq and Afghanistan commander said terrorists and extremists will move to fill a vacuum if allowed to do so.
“We cannot continue to allow terrorists and extremists to use the internet and big social media platforms, most of which are hosted in the United States I should say, to spread their poison,” Mr Turnbull said.
“That is why when the Attorney-General travels very shortly to Canada to meet with our five eyes counterparts … one of the key focuses is going to be, as it will be at the G20 in a week or so, how we can ensure we keep ourselves and our children, in particular, safe from these extraordinary tools, these wondrous tools that have transformed so many lives, from also being used by terrorists and criminals.”
Reflecting on his government’s success in the Senate, Mr Turnbull joked that the press gallery was always “calling on me to admit things….that we cannot get legislation through the Senate”.
“We keep on proving them wrong,” he said.
“Despite the predictions that have been made about deadlock in the Senate we have negotiated the passage of 126 bills through the parliament in just 11 months since the election,” including the school funding package, childcare reforms and tax cuts for small and medium business.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard often boasted of her government’s record in passing legislation in a hung parliament and complained about a lack of recognition for this achievement, too.
Earlier this month, Senator Brandis told Fairfax Media the government would not pursue a controversial “backdoor” access option that would force firms to plant flaws in their encryption software and allow social media platforms and tech companies to be cracked by police or security agencies.
Instead, he flagged greater data sharing and co-operation between spy and police agencies in Australia and like-minded countries to smooth the way for the issuing of warrants.