The cyber-bullying law

Chris Barton writes at NZ Herald:

In its rushed proposals to stomp out cyber bullying, the has blundered in haste.

Instead of refining our existing laws to ensure they reach into cyberspace, it’s proposing a whole new offence “causing harm by means of communication device.”

No, it doesn’t mean causing grievous bodily harm by taking to someone with your iPhone. The proposed offence aims to make it illegal to send “a message or other matter” – whether by text, Twitter, email or Facebook that is “grossly offensive; or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character; or knowingly false”. To make the criminal charge stick you’d also have to show that the sender was out to cause substantial emotional distress to someone else.

I have some concerns with the proposed law also. But it is worth noting the law does not create a new criminal offence, or charge. It proposed a tribunal that could order material removed.

“We are prepared to accept that a case can be made out for making the very worst of deliberately harmful speech illegal,” says Tech Liberty, which has argued against aspects of the proposals. “However, we see no reason why this illegality should only be limited to electronic communications. Surely a poison-pen letter delivered to the letter box can be as harmful as an email or a text message on a phone.”

Making separate laws for the internet and the real world ushers in a dangerous precedent and sets up the prospect of two different legal realms.

This is one of the issue. Something done offline and online should be treated the same. Arguably you could extend the gambit of the proposed Communications Tribunal to include offline harmful speech also. Or you could narrow it to only target speech which is currently covered by our laws.

The proposed law is under consideration by the Government, and could even be introduced to Parliament later this year. There are potentially very significant ramifications for Internet users.

To help inform debate, and to try and improve the proposed law, InternetNZ has organised two half day workshops on the proposed law. The agenda is here and details are:

  • Wellington, Mon 17 Sep, 1 pm – 5 pm, Civic Suites, Wellington Town Hall
  • Auckland, Tue 18 Sep, 1 pm – 5 pm, Limelight Room, Aotea Centre

If you wish to attend, you can RSVP to rsvp@internetnz.net.nz. They are free to attend.

Comments (16)

Login to comment or vote