‘Disgrace’: Meta slammed by top cop

Australia is taking on Elon Musk and other social media giants. Picture: Etienne Laurent / AFP
Australia is taking on Elon Musk and other social media giants. Picture: Etienne Laurent / AFP

Australia’s chief cop says Meta has been a “disgrace” in its response to concerns over end-to-end encryption as he joined forces with spy boss Mike Burgess to call on tech companies to co-operate in the fight against rising online extremism.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess used a speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday to say he wasn’t calling for an end to end-to-end encryption, new laws or powers but was pleading for “tech companies to do more”.

“I’m asking them to give effect to the existing powers and uphold existing laws. Without their help, in very limited and strictly controlled circumstances, encryption is unaccountable,” he said.

Mr Burgess said end-to-end encryption was being exploited by criminals, would-be terrorists and child abusers and unless social media companies co-operated, those conversations could not be accessed.

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw and ASIO director-general Mike Burgess addressed the NPC on Wednesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

He said it could mean the difference between life and death.

“One of the reasons that I’m here to ask for their help is because I don’t want to be in the future looking backward when a royal commission says ‘wouldn’t it have been good to have had this’,” he said.

“So yes, it can be a matter of life and death, and that’s why we’re asking for the capability, strongly controlled, (to do this). That’s all I’m asking for.”

Mr Burgess said without having access to those capabilities, more resources were required that could be “potentially dangerous”.

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said it was a “disgrace” that social media giant Meta were more than halfway through their end-to-end encryption with no regard for the government’s concerns.

“Our fear is that they may still refer matters to us, but we won’t be able to action them,” he said.

We won’t know who the end receiver is. And that’s probably going to cause more stress in our system of not being able to do anything with it, which I think is a disgrace.”

The chiefs are concerned about Meta’s roll out of end-to-end encryption.
The chiefs are concerned about Meta’s roll out of end-to-end encryption.

Earlier, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said she wanted social media companies to be subject to more regulation as a bitter fight to remove the violent footage of the Sydney church stabbing wages on.

“They are creating civil division, social unrest, just about every problem that we have as a country is either being exacerbated or caused by social media and we’re not seeing a skerrick of responsibility by these companies,” Ms O’Neil told Channel 7.

“Instead, we’re seeing megalomaniacs like Elon Musk going to court to fight for the right to show alleged terrorist content on his platform.

“There is no way that these social media platforms are going to do the right thing voluntarily and we need to step up and do better as a parliament to make sure that we regulate them.”

Clare O’Neil says social media is making Australia’s problems worse. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant ordered X and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to remove footage of the alleged stabbing of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley last week.

Musk’s X objected, vowing to fight the order, claiming restricting the visibility of the footage – or geoblocking – to people in Australia was sufficient.

But in a late Monday night court hearing, lawyers for the eSafety commissioner argued that geoblocking did not go far enough to comply with the Online Safety Act – given Australians using a VPN could still see it.

A two-day temporary injunction was granted, meaning X must hide the posts until the matter returns to court on Wednesday when lawyers can argue against the injunction before a final decision is made.

In a written statement issued ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, an eSafety spokesperson recognised that it would not be possible to remove all content from the attack online.

“While it may be difficult to eradicate damaging content from the internet entirely, particularly as users continue to repost it, eSafety requires platforms to do everything practical and reasonable to minimise the harm it may cause to Australians and the Australian community,” they said.

Lawyers for the Elon Musk-owned X will return to the Federal Court on Wednesday. Picture: Etienne Laurent / AFP
Lawyers for the Elon Musk-owned X will return to the Federal Court on Wednesday. Picture: Etienne Laurent / AFP

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland conceded the take-downs could only be issued to known URLs.

“The notices are issued at a particular point in time regarding certain URLs, so they do change over time,” she said told ABC’s RN.

“That is why some users will see this content, but I make the point that I have made on every occasion; if people see this content as it proliferates, people should not forward it.

“They should report it.”

Meanwhile, in a series of posts overnight, Mr Musk mocked Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who removed herself from the platform in the wake of the saga.

She deleted her X account after lashing Mr Musk as a “friggin’ disgrace” who “should be jailed”.

Mr Musk sensationally labelled her “an enemy of the people of Australia” and “this woman has utter contempt for the Australian people”.

In another, the tech boss replied to a clip of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese criticising Mr Musk’s refusal to remove the content from the platform.

“X is the only one standing up for the rights of Australians,” Mr Musk wrote.

Senator Lambie has been contacted for comment.