Alastair MacGibbon appointed new child cyberbullying cop

By Harley Dennett

Thursday March 19, 2015

Alastair MacGibbon
Alastair MacGibbon

A 15-year Australian Federal Police veteran and online security commentator, Alastair MacGibbon, has been appointed to the newly created statutory officer role for online safety of Australian children.

MacGibbon (pictured) is currently director at the centre of Internet Safety at the University of Canberra and will assume the role on July 1. The commissioner’s office will sit within Australian Communications and Media Authority, and share some of its personnel. In addition, some 30 personnel will be permanently moved to new office.

Jennifer McNeill, ACMA’s content, consumer and citizen division general manager, told Senate Estimates last month that the appointment and new office would be offset by shutting down ACMA’s existing online safety education program. Cybersmart out reach work with schools, a task that will now fall to MacGibbon. McNeill added that ACMA’s hotline for dealing with complaints about offensive and illegal content online would also go:

“…around 30 staff will move across to the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner. Around eight of those currently work on hotline activities. Our expectation is that they would continue to work on hotline activities but for the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner. The rest of the staff, together with some new staff, who, I think it is contemplated, might be taken on to assist with the children’s e-safety commissioner work, will necessarily need to scale back their cybersafety issues and work. What is contemplated is a different mix of grants and school assistance than is currently undertaken by the ACMA.”

However, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher was less sure today, saying the final numbers would be determined as the office is established.

The new office’s first duties will be creating a complaints system to “get harmful material targeted at Australian children down fast from large social media sites”, Fletcher reiterated. The government has envisioned this complaints system to be operational by the end of this year.

The children’s e-safety commissioner will also be charged with an educational and advocacy role, working with industry, child welfare organisations, law enforcement agencies and parents to protect children from cyberbullying.

MacGibbon has been recently commenting on the role of government in citizen’s online privacy. A strong supporter of the government’s data retention proposal, he also argues for a reform of privacy laws:

“Many will argue that it is up to the individual to protect their own privacy, particularly by changing their behaviours, and stopping others, such as not taking nudie selfies.

“But it isn’t that simple. Even the dullest, most simple action online generates information that could be — and likely is — abused and misused by someone today.”

As commissioner, MacGibbon will have to work with large foreign-run social media networks like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — the same companies he has been criticising in recent weeks for holding and using more citizen data than governments:

“While the chances of any of us having our data lawfully accessed by the government remains rare, our data is used every day without our knowledge by private companies.”

MacGibbon is also general manager of a local security company Dimension Data Australia, held a previous role with eBay, and was appointed as founding director of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre at the AFP. He also founded a not-for-profit organisation, CREST Australia, that certified “white hat” ethical hackers. Fletcher said the appointment was made following an open call for nominations and a thorough selection process.

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