By Daniel Y. Teng
Tech giant Google has been ordered to hand over the IP address and details of a person accused of emailing defamatory allegations about a Labor election candidate in Australia.
On Nov. 9 last year, during the Victorian state election, an individual sent an email (from the address: firstname.lastname@example.org) about Nurul Khan to ministers and news organisations.
Following this, Mr. Khan was disendorsed by the Labor Party before the Nov. 26 election, where he was running as an Upper House candidate for the Western Metropolitan region.
The email accused Mr. Khan of corruption and that he had to pay fines for unethical conduct—Mr. Khan is a legal practitioner.
His barrister, Justin Castelan, called the email contents “absolutely defamatory” in the Federal Court of Australia on July 11.
Mr. Castelan sought an order for Google to hand over the details of the email sender.
Representatives for the tech giant were not present and instead sent a proposed order for the judge to consider.
Justice Catherine Button ordered Google to provide the subscriber registration information from the account and the email address’s IP logins before or on Nov. 9.
Another hearing has been arranged to see if Mr. Khan can continue with his defamation action.
He has previously accused Labor Party insiders of potential involvement to oust him from the candidacy—in Australia, intra-party preselections can often be tightly fought contests between rival factions.
“I am still fighting for justice because it was definitely unfair for me,” he told The Australian newspaper.
Victorian Sen. Ralph Babet said Mr. Khan was entitled to sue for defamation but said the issue around user privacy was more challenging.
“I believe that there are certain circumstances whereby the identification of emailer is justified, for example, a direct threat to one’s life,” he said in a statement to The Epoch Times.
“We must all remember that when one signs up to a global tech platform, anonymity is by no means guaranteed. Our digital footprint remains,” Mr. Babet said.
“We must face reality, in the modern world, we often choose to surrender privacy in the pursuit of a little convenience.”
Governments Pressuring Tech Giants on ‘Harmful Content’
The move to make social media companies more accountable for harmful content or “disinformation” is well underway globally.
In late June, the owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, was issued with a legal notice to explain what he was doing to deal with “hate speech” or face fines of $700,000 per day.
Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said she had received “more complaints about online hate on Twitter in the past 12 months” than any other platform and alleged an “increasing number” of reports of serious online abuse since Musk took over in October 2022.
“Twitter appears to have dropped the ball on tackling hate. A third of all complaints about online hate reported to us are now happening on Twitter,” she claimed.
If Twitter fails to respond to the notice in 28 days, the tech giant will face a maximum fine of $700,000 (US$476,000) per day for “continuing breaches.”
Just a week later, the federal communications minister, Michelle Rowland, released details of the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023.
The Bill introduces a two-tiered system to regulate mis- or disinformation online.
The first tier will see Australia’s media regulator request social media companies develop a code of practice (industry codes)—similar to the telecommunications industry.
If the code fails, the second tier of regulation will see Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) create and enforce an industry standard (a stronger form of regulation) that will attract penalties of $6.8 million or five percent of global turnover—millions for Twitter and billions for companies like Meta (Facebook) and Google.
The government says the ACMA will not have the power to determine what is “true or false” on individual posts, and the new laws will have no impact on “professional news content or authorised electoral content”—groups outside of this classification could face more scrutiny.
The federal opposition has earmarked concerns around how ACMA will determine what is “mis- or disinformation.”
“This is a complex area of policy, and government overreach must be avoided,” said David Coleman, the shadow communications minister.
“The public will want to know exactly who decides whether a particular piece of content is ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation.’”