Bolstering eSafety with Blockchain?
Julie Inman Grant, Australia's eSafety Commissioner, leads what is described as "the world's first government agency committed to keeping its citizens safer online". Grant recently spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald, encouraging social media companies to increase their own accountability for content hosted on their platforms. Grant said that social media companies should harness their resources to develop more robust systems to identify users who are violating their terms of service.
An ongoing consultation on the new online safety bill proposes:
Strengthened information gathering powers for the eSafety Commissioner to unmask the identities behind anonymous or fake accounts used to conduct serious online abuse or to exchange illegal content
as described by the Hon Paul Fletcher MP.
Importantly, the eSafety Commissioner has recognised that blockchain might assist in tackling the scourge of bots and fake accounts. Specifically, Grant identified that the major issue exists in society where individuals abuse anonymity online to harm others and said that:
balance could be achieved with digital IDs or blockchain-powered solutions that would hide users’ details until requested by law enforcement.
While the consultation on the new bill does not explicitly mention blockchain solutions as a mechanism to establish the balance between necessitated transparency while yielding the benefits of anonymity, consultations remain open until 14 February 2021. As the proposed legislation intends to establish 'basic online safety expectations', being able to verify individuals online will be crucial to enforcement of new offences.
Australia has already made strides in the digital ID space with blockchain voting occurring in 2019 and a digital ID government identification currently available. It is important that emerging technologies remain a central consideration in seeking to enforce standards in digital spheres. As the consultation for the proposed legislation ends, we look forward to seeing whether the eSafety Commissioners' current views will inform the ways that Australia approaches regulating and enforcing conduct standards online and what role blockchain technology may play in this.