Australia's eSafety commissioner has received temporary powers to force telecommunications companies to block websites that host violent or extremist content, with legislation to address the legal grey area to be introduced in the next few months.
From Tuesday, eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant will receive a new function under the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 to "protect Australians from exposure to material that promotes, incites or instructs in terrorist acts or violent crimes", a spokesman said.
It comes after a taskforce formed to tackle the proliferation of terrorist and extreme violent material online urged the eSafety commissioner to consider using a subsection of the Telecommunications Act 1997 to direct internet service providers to continue blocking domains hosting the footage of the Christchurch massacre until a longer-term solution was found.
Internet service providers have been voluntarily blocking websites that hosted videos of the shootings and the alleged perpetrator's manifesto since March.
The government passed laws in April that meant companies and their staff could be fined or face jail time if they did not remove violent material from their platforms fast enough.
However there was no law in place that gave providers legal backing for continuing to block sites hosting the Christchurch material.
It is understood the eSafety commissioner could not use the powers of the Telecommunications Act without a separate function being granted through the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015.
This power will be a stop-gap measure until actual legislation is introduced later in the year.
However it is unclear how the new power will be used.
The spokesman for the eSafety commissioner said the commissioner will "employ it with discretion" and was consulting with industry.
"The commissioner's discretion will be exercised with due consideration to procedural fairness requirements," he said.
However, there is no set period for how long a site can be blocked.
Asked what recourse was available to owners who felt their sites had been unfairly blocked, he said: "Hosts of sites that are subject to being blocked may choose to seek their own legal advice."
It is also unclear how the commissioner would handle the spread of violent material through private messaging apps.
The spokesman said: "We will review each report on a case-by-case basis and will consider the most appropriate application of the powers available to the commissioner in the interests of the Australian public".
The taskforce was formed out of a summit in the weeks after the massacre with Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter, along with Telstra, Vodafone, TPG and Optus.