The government is considering whether to implement a scheme that would require you to present 100 points of identification to open or keep a social media account.
A parliamentary inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence made the recommendations when it handed down its final report last week.
Noting a rise in image-based and other forms of online abuse, the committee said social media users “should be required by law to identify themselves to a platform using 100 points of identification, in the same way as a person must provide identification for a mobile phone account, or to buy a mobile SIM card”.
It also recommended that social media platforms like Facebook be required to hand over identification details when asked by law enforcement or the eSafety Commissioner.
At a doorstop to discuss the government’s Women’s Safety Taskforce meeting on Wednesday, Social Services Minister Anne Ruston described technology-facilitated abuse as “a major, major issue in domestic violence”.
“The anonymity of some of those accounts I think allows people a level of bravery that perhaps they wouldn't have if they had to be identified,” she said.
“I think it is definitely an issue that we should be investigating.”
When pressed on the issue, Ruston pointed to the consultation period that would come prior to an attempt to legislate a mandatory social media identification scheme as being the time for further discussion.
Verification is not so easy
But the debate around this concept was taking place in Canberra as recently as October last year when the eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, spoke at a senate estimates hearing.
“It would be very challenging, I would think, for Facebook, for instance, to re-identify or identify its current 2.7 billion users,” Inman Grant said.
“How do they practically go back and do that? It's not impossible but it creates a range of other issues.
“It would be great if everybody had a name tag online so they couldn't do things with impunity, but from a technical, policy, and even a political level, I just don't know how – in the next two or three years – that would be achievable.”
At the same hearing, Richard Windeyer, deputy secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, pointed out some of the difficulties inherent in implementing online identity verification systems.
“Would you be using passports? Would you be using national ID numbers?” he asked.
“And what kinds of risks does that bring by collecting and storing some of that information? So it isn't a straightforward question.”
“Anonymity does have some benefits if you're a dissident in a repressive government, if you're a whistleblower or even if you're an LGBTQI teen who's trying to seek out information,” she said.
“The challenge is when anonymity is used for nefarious purposes, for coercion or to hide identity and commit abuse.”
The parliamentary inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence also recommended regulations allowing the law enforcement to access a digital platform’s end-to-end encryption data “in matters involving a threat to the physical or mental wellbeing of an individual or in cases of national security”.
Such a recommendation is reminiscent of the controversial Assistance and Access Act that prominent Australian technologists have said “significantly degraded the global reputation of the Australian tech sector”.