ASIO boss, AFP commissioner issue social media warning

Australia’s spy boss and the head of the federal police have urged technology and social media companies to step up their game to keep users safe online.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess and AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw will use a joint address at the National Press Club on Wednesday to call on tech giants to do more as part of law enforcement efforts.

The speech comes after social media platforms were urged to remove graphic content and misinformation following the Bondi Junction stabbing attack earlier in April, as well as the stabbing of a bishop at a Sydney church just days later.

Mr Kershaw said there had been a failure of social media companies to protect people online.

“Social media companies are refusing to snuff out the social combustion on their platforms. Instead of putting out the embers on their platforms, their indifference and defiance is pouring accelerant on the flames,” he will say in the speech.

“If we consider the disinformation and misinformation from two shocking incidents in Sydney this month, and how that social combustion was propagated throughout the world, we see the consequences of that indifference and defiance.”

Social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, has refused take-down orders from the online safety watchdog following the stabbing incidents, with its owner Elon Musk accusing the body of censorship.

Mr Burgess will also warn that a move by social media companies to expand secure communication on their platform, known as end-to-end encryption, would hamper investigations by police and spy agencies.

While he will not call for a stop to end-to-end encryption, he has urged the platforms to uphold existing powers for law enforcement bodies.

“Without their help in very limited and strictly controlled circumstances, encryption is unaccountable,” Mr Burgess will say.

“Unaccountable encryption is like building a safe room for terrorists and spies, a secure place where they can plot and plan.”

The ASIO boss is also set to disclose that multiple nationalist extremist networks have been using encrypted services, and the spy agency has been compromised in trying to investigate the networks as a result.

“They use an encrypted chat platform to communicate with offshore extremists, sharing vile propaganda, posting tips about homemade weapons and discussing how to provoke a race war,” he will say.

“Having lawful and targeted access to extremist communications would be much more effective and efficient, it would give us real-time visibility of their activities.”:

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said the government was working with regulators and authorities in other countries to tackle the issue of encrypted platforms being used for extremism.

“National security agencies are deeply concerned about having the appropriate tools to do their jobs in order to keep Australians safe,” she told ABC radio.

“These are smart people who are working with agencies and with their counterparts around the world, to be able to do what is necessary … to identify where there are harms emerging and bring people to justice.”

The federal police commissioner will also make the same plea about the use of encrypted services, urging platforms not to transition until it is guaranteed people online can be kept safe.

“People have a right to privacy, just like they have the right not to be harmed,” he will say.

“People expect to have their privacy protected just like they expect police to do their job once a crime has been committed against them or a loved one.”


Andrew Brown
(Australian Associated Press)


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Categories: Legal