The federal government’s online security report was released yesterday, and in addition to calling for algorithmic transparency, it also targets end-to-end encryption.
Social Media and Online Safety Committee Chair Lucy Wicks wrote in the report (PDF) that platforms must “bear the ultimate burden of keeping their users safe”, rather than being able to set their own rules.
As things stand, she writes, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have “allowed the proliferation of online abuse on their spaces.”
However, the report does not only criticize the platforms. Wicks added: “there is
also a need to focus on the conduct and behavior of people who use technology in ways that harm others.
A key recommendation among the 26 made in the report is that platforms address how their algorithms can be manipulated to amplify damage.
The report noted the opacity that surrounds how the platforms’ algorithms work and adds that they “do not provide publicly available details about how their algorithms work and whether the platforms are doing anything to address the damage. potentials caused by their algorithms”.
With so little known, the report recommends a study by the Commissioner of Electronic Security and the Ministries of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, and the Interior.
According to the report, this study would examine issues of how digital platform algorithms work, the types of harm they can cause, algorithmic transparency, and regulatory options.
The report also says the digital security review is expected to make recommendations to the government “on potential proposals to mandate platform transparency.”
The report acknowledges that the government is not yet equipped to legislate for greater transparency in how platforms deploy and use the algorithms that drive engagement with content, but instead recommends that the government create a scorecard road to “strengthen skills, expertise and methods for the future”. generation of technological regulation”.
This work could, according to the report, be carried out by the Commissioner for Electronic Security and the Ministries of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, and Home Affairs.
The report also recommends that platforms report to the Electronic Safety Commissioner “detailing evidence of harm reduction tools and techniques to combat online harm caused by algorithms.”
The report also opened up another front in Australia’s ‘encryption wars’, with eSafety, Infrastructure and Home Affairs also tasked with examining ‘the need for potential regulation of end-to-end encryption technology in the context damage prevention”.
Both eSafety and Home Affairs have commented critically on the platforms’ use of end-to-end encryption.
The eSafety submission, cited in the report, noted that encryption prevents traffic inspection for harmful material and therefore makes it difficult for law enforcement to identify child pornography material.
Home Affairs said encryption “on digital platforms, including social media, brings Dark Web functionality to the mainstream.”
He said encryption “particularly on platforms used by children carries significant risks to public safety”, and that the anonymity provided by end-to-end encryption is a catalyst for predators.