Interview with Sandra Moon, ABC Goulburn Murray Albury-Wodonga

SANDRA MOON, HOST: The Federal Government has added to their Basic (Online Safety) Expectations for social media companies, for the eSafety Commissioner to then wield. But how do you go about enforcing your rules on an international company? Michelle Rowland is the Federal Communications Minister and is with you now. Good morning.
MOON. So, tell us about these new Basic Online Safety Expectations?
ROWLAND: Certainly. Well, as you say, many of your listeners will be very concerned about the impact of social media, particularly on children. It's a very live discussion right now around Australia. We have an Online Safety Act that's been in force since the beginning of 2022. And one of the key elements of that is a set of what's called Basic Online Safety Expectations, or the BOSE. And in November last year, having reviewed the effectiveness of the BOSE - and the fact that technology has been emerging so quickly, including generative AI which was not really a widely-used term at the beginning of 2022 – we set about reviewing the current Basic Online Safety Expectations.
And today I'm pleased to announce that we have re-issued those following consultation, and these include a number of expectations on online services. One of the key ones here is that the best interest of the child must be a primary consideration in the design and operation of any service that's likely to be accessed by children. There's a number of other elements that are in the amended BOSE Determination, but I think the key point here is it goes to something that's problematic for the platforms, but is really important, and that's in terms of transparency and accountability. The BOSE Determination gives the eSafety Commissioner the tools to understand what these companies are doing to keep Australian safe. The online platforms need to do more. It is a collective effort to keep Australians safe online. And this updated set of Basic Online Safety Expectations is a key part of that.
MOON: It's very tricky though, isn't it? I mean, as you were mentioning, with the information around AI, you know, this technology is moving so quickly.
ROWLAND It is moving so quickly, but at the same time your listeners will be aware that it is actually the platforms who know their users better than anyone else. Another element of the BOSE is that user safety be incorporated into the design and operation of generative AI, and services actually have to take proactive steps to minimise how this technology is used to create harmful content, things like deep fake non-consensual images. So, this requirement on the platforms to take proactive steps to actually detect breaches of their own Terms of Service, which include everything ranging from potentially hate speech or violent or terrorist content, that requirement to proactively minimise, including how recommender systems, for example, can amplify that sort of harmful material.
These are very important tools that the eSafety Commissioner can utilise - and we know that that has been done effectively to date. There are potentially fines and court actions for non-compliance by the platforms, but the fact that the platforms have largely followed orders to date to avoid those sorts of penalties, I think, indicates that this is an important step to update this to ensure we're doing everything within our power now under the regime that we have to keep Australians safe.
MOON: And so, as would indicate with things like fines, etcetera, this is legally binding?
ROWLAND: That is right, and it is irrespective of whether these platforms, and most of them are domiciled overseas. But they are subject to Australian law, and the eSafety Commissioner has issued notices to a number of platforms in this respect - that it operates as a mechanism to ensure those two important outcomes of transparency and accountability. It means that eSafety can seek information from these companies on the steps they're taking to comply. It also serves an important function of raising public awareness and helping to inform policymakers about what may be working effectively and where there might be gaps in our existing law.
MOON: Can I ask you, whenever we hear communications, and of course, Federal Communications Minister, we need to jump on with this: a big topic in this part of the world is the planned 3G switch off that's been delayed for a few months by a couple of telecommunications companies. But how can we ensure that the mobile providers actually have functioning 4G working in the areas that are currently only serviced by 3G?
ROWLAND: No, you're absolutely right to mention how important connectivity is and that switchover from 3G to 4G is occurring now, and Telstra has announced that it is actually delaying the switchover of its 3G network to 31 August.
I understand how important this is for communities, and it's also critically important that this is done in a safe way. Many of your listeners may be aware that it became apparent that there are some devices which work on 3G and would otherwise work on 4G networks configured by the manufacturer to use 3G for calls to Triple Zero. So, it actually won't become apparent to users that they can't call Triple Zero until they actually go to do that. This is a very great concern, which is why I stood up a Working Group to say to the industry: this needs to be done better.
We originally had some estimates of the number of impact devices to be around 740,000 devices. Industry has done work through that group and that number has been revised to around 370,000 devices. But it is still a very serious issue. Telcos have made public undertakings that they will prioritise the 4G rollout to ensure that there is continuity of service. But we are still very concerned that this be done in a safe way.
And if I can put out a public service announcement to your listeners: Telstra and Optus now have the ability for customers to be able to check whether their device is compatible. When the switchover occurs, they can simply text the numeral 3 to the number 3498. That's 3498, and they'll be able to find out whether their device is compatible. We want this done in a safe way, but we also want it done in a way that ensures continuity of service.
MOON: Yeah. All right. Well, we will keep abreast of all the developments there as well. And appreciate your time this morning telling us about the BOSE and, of course, discussing 3G. Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland. Thanks for your time.
ROWLAND: Pleasure.