eSafety Commissioner threatened over X takedown notice

Receiving threats and online abuse after telling X Corp to take down a video of a brutal church stabbing, the eSafety Commissioner has raised safety concerns with police.

Australia's internet cop is in a Federal Court legal battle with Elon Musk's social media platform seeking the removal of a clip showing Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel being attacked at a western Sydney church in April.

According to a court material made public on Thursday, the watchdog  was forced to contact NSW and federal police because of threats and online abuse towards Commissioner Julie Grant received following the takedown notice.

"As a result of these threats, eSafety is concerned for the eSafety Commissioner's safety and wellbeing, and the safety and wellbeing of her family," wrote eSafety Commission general manager of regulatory operations Toby Dagg in an affidavit filed with the Federal Court.

"(The commission) has requested the assistance of the Australian Federal Police and New South Wales Police Force."

Elon Musk (file image)
A judge declined to extend an order requiring Elon Musk's X to block clips from 65 websites.

On Monday, Justice Geoffrey Kennett declined to extend an interim order requiring X to block clips from 65 websites that show the graphic few seconds when the bishop was stabbed.

Removal notices were sent to multiple social media companies, including Facebook and Instagram parent Meta, which quickly did what it was told.

However, X only geoblocked the material from Australian users, leaving the clip viewable by those who used virtual private networks (VPNs).

In his decision, Justice Kennett found an order requiring removal of the content for all Australians worldwide was unreasonable.

"The potential consequences for orderly and amicable relations between nations, if a notice with the breadth contended for were enforced, are obvious," Justice Kennett wrote. 

"Most likely, the notice would be ignored or disparaged in other countries."

Two US free-speech non-profits seeking to intervene in the case have gone further, arguing that the enforcement of a global takedown order such as this one could encourage authoritarian regimes.

"(Takedowns) set a dangerous precedent that could legitimise practices of authoritarian governments, which do not fully value the rights to freedom of speech and access to information," wrote Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in an affidavit.

Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, wrote separately that consequences like this were a "real risk".

"This outcome could undermine Australia’s standing to oppose similar actions by other governments and result in a significant erosion of free expression worldwide," he said.

Bishop Emmanuel has sided with X in wanting the video to remain online, pointing in an affidavit to Australia's "God given right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion".

He also raised concerns about others using the attack on him to serve their political purposes and control free speech.

The matter has been set down for a two-day hearing to begin July 24.

The commission is seeking penalties and further injunctions for X regarding the stabbing video.

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