It is now an offence to create a social media profile for the purpose of contacting people under the age of 18, and to misrepresent one’s age in a social media profile.
The Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Minors Online) Bill, popularly known as Carly’s Law, is the Government’s new law designed to crack down on online predators.
It has passed the Senate without further amendment after being amended four times, following concerns it infringed civil liberties. Even in the form in which it has now been passed, it has continued to attract criticism, most notably from the Law Council of Australia and from the Australian Lawyers Alliance, because it criminalises intent rather than action.
Greens Senator Nick McKim said in Parliament that his party was concerned the law could potentially penalise a person for “broad intentions which they may never have acted upon”.
“Communication with a young person is not required under the offence which this Act creates. The person under 16 referred to in this bill does not need to be a specific individual, and the offence may be able to be proved where a child has not even been communicated with or even identified.”
The main criticism of the law is that it is too broad in its definition. “The intent is to criminalise a preparatory step in the process of committing a crime,” said the Law Society of South Australia in a statement. “However, in attempting to do so, it will capture many situations it does not intend to.”
Before the law was passed, it was not illegal to misrepresent one’s age online. Nor was it previously illegal to meet someone as a result of such misrepresentation. Now it is.
“The new offence will provide police with the power to intervene before a predator has the chance to act, before a child is harmed,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said.
“The tough new sentence of ten years imprisonment for convicted offenders will also serve as a strong deterrent for the vile grooming of young Australians.”
The bill is named after Carly Ryan, a 15-year old girl murdered in 2007 by 47-year-old pedophile posing online as a teenage boy.
Carly’s mother – and founder and CEO of the Carly Ryan Foundation – Sonya Ryan said she was happy the law had finally passed.
“I embrace this legislation as a vital tool, giving police more power to intervene sooner before a child is harmed or before an innocent child becomes a victim of a crime,” she said.
“It’s hard to find the words to describe how this feels, but I know my daughter would be very happy to see other children protected.”