Amendments in parliament aim to ban electoral spam messages

The bill empowers voters to treat unsolicited political texts 'as an invasion of privacy'

Amendments in parliament aim to ban electoral spam messages

Amendments to existing communication and electoral laws have been introduced in parliament to provide consumers with more control over unsolicited communication from political parties.

The Unsolicited Political Communications Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 will amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) and the Spam Act 2003 (Spam Act).

The bill seeks to reform the Electoral Act to ensure actors used for a political telephone campaign are "identified as such" at the beginning of the voice call. It also seeks to amend the Spam Act to require political parties to provide an unsubscribe function for all unsolicited electronic communication, including SMS that contains electoral content.

The bill comes after public concerns about "the volume, frequency or desirability of unsolicited communications from political parties." These communications are currently not subject to the restrictions imposed in the Spam Act.

The bill explained that "the intrusiveness of unsolicited communication" as well as "the use of personal data without express consent" are factors to its creation. It also pointed to the lack of remedies "to stop or avoid this type of unsolicited communication."

The Spam Act currently prohibits unsolicited commercial electronic messages, broadly defined as "messages sent via email, instant messaging, SMS and MMS." However, an exemption is given to "designated commercial electronic messages." The latter is defined as "electronic messages sent by government bodies, political parties, charities and educational institutions." The messages are not required to include a functional unsubscribe facility, unlike others.

The bill said this lack of option leaves voters with no means to avoid "unwanted, unsolicited texts" from political parties and candidates.

More than 4,000 complaints against political spam have been lodged with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in 2021. However, ACMA is "powerless to act on these complaints," the bill said. It seeks to provide a remedy.

The bill would require all electronic messages containing electoral matter, as defined in the Electoral Act, to have an unsubscribe facility. The latter would be made available regardless if it's for a commercial purpose, as defined in the Spam Act.

The bill said that its amendments would not interfere with the Constitution's implied freedom of political communication.

Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP sponsored the bill, which was introduced and read for the first time in the House of Representatives on 25 October.

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