The cyber-bullying law

September 6th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

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.

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16 Responses to “The cyber-bullying law”

  1. scrubone (3,104 comments) says:

    Shame I can’t attend. Would be nice to discuss the Jackie Sperling case.

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  2. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    I think Chris Barton misses the point. Yes, existing law could be amended. But a complainant would still have to complain and might have to go through the courts, meaning it would likely be time-consuming and expensive. Complaining to a tribunal will be cheaper (no lawyers involved) and more effiicient in obtaining a take down order.

    Steven Price has made many comments about the proposed law change – most of them favourable – and I’m inclined to agree with him. Sure, what’s proposed isn’t perfect but it’s better than what we have at the moment.

    http://www.medialawjournal.co.nz

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  3. F E Smith (3,307 comments) says:

    or knowingly false

    Really?  Seems a bit much, doesn’t it?  That would seem to take it well beyond the concept of defamation.

    Or you could narrow it to only target speech which is currently covered by our laws.

    That seems better.

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  4. redeye (630 comments) says:

    We’re getting a bit precious I reckon. What happened to “Sticks and stones may hurt…”?

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  5. thomasbeagle (77 comments) says:

    ” But it is worth noting the law does not create a new criminal offence, or charge.”

    That is incorrect, it also proposes a new criminal offence, “causing harm by means of a communications device”.

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  6. insider (1,028 comments) says:

    @ scrubone

    Haven’t you had enough of it yet?

    @ ross

    What’s wrong with having to complain? That introduces a discipline that people have to follow and weed out oversensitivity. My free and frank could be your menacing or knowingly false. making stuff that is knowingly false illegal would remove half the world’s internet traffic.

    The law should only enter this if there is real cause. We’ve got along fine till now without it and the internet isn;t exactly new. introducing yet another agency into our lives is slightly OTT.

    Or perhaps the answer is we all stage swoons like Charlotte Dawson when things get a bit rough.

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  7. thomasbeagle (77 comments) says:

    And here’s a critical view of the report and the bill:techliberty.org.nz/whats-wrong-with-the-communications-new-media-bill-and-can-it-be-fixed/

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  8. nasska (11,788 comments) says:

    The control freaks in government & its bureaucracy have waited long & patiently for an opportunity to control the internet. It took a couple of emo kids being bullied to provide the excuse but now they have a “cause” to build regulations on, Polyanna herself wouldn’t expect the arseholes not to jump in boots & all.

    Don’t anyone kid themselves that this law will protect kids….its the thin end of the censorship wedge pure & simple!

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  9. Redbaiter (9,528 comments) says:

    Undoubtedly this will turn out to be another example of bureaucratic over reach from the usual shiny arsed half educated ignorant of history petty fascists who are today filling the roles that used to be filled by real public servants.

    I am so sick of these pricks and their need to introduce intrusive and poorly written legislation at the drop of some fucking whining pussy’s hat.

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  10. Brian Smaller (4,024 comments) says:

    @redeye – Sticks and stones may indeed break yoru bones, but apparently words are the meanest weapon of all. Boo fucking hoo. Stop treating kids from day one as snowflakes and they may be a bit tougher. This will just be another tool to suppress free speech in the end.

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  11. Reid (16,632 comments) says:

    There are potentially very significant ramifications for Internet users.

    Crikey. So I can’t hawass the lefties anymore. This is sewious!

    RB I’m predicting you’ll be prosecuted 5 mins after the law comes into effect. The police will probably wait outside your place ready to pounce. You may have to activate your survival plan much sooner than you would have preferred.

    Brian how can you cwitique the full wrap-around service currently on offer by the advanced pwogwessives. Aren’t you awful. One can only conclude you must be one of those child-haters who infest the conservative realm.

    [Explanation: I’m pwaticising my leftism disguise conversion which I plan to use as a mitigating factor lest when toad dobs me in for making him cwy.]

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  12. wat dabney (3,805 comments) says:

    How is comfortable, middle-class parasite John Hatfield supposed to cynically keep attracting his thick voters and maintain the fiction of being a firebrand and fearless man-of-the-(brown)-people if his carefully marketed tweets are going to land him in trouble?

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  13. scrubone (3,104 comments) says:

    insider: Oh, I’m completely sick of it.

    But it’s like picking up nails someone’s left on the road – the fact that you’re sick of it doesn’t mean that it’s right to walk away.

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  14. scrubone (3,104 comments) says:

    redeye: names may never hurt you if you’re a lumberjack, but there are plenty of jobs where a public reputation is important, and having someone running around the internet telling lies can cause very real harm.

    For example, you’re looking for an accountant. You google a name and see a blog post that states they’ve stolen money. You give them a pass on the assumption that it “must have” at least some credibility, right? And so does every other potential client. And the accountant’s business dries up overnight.

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  15. redeye (630 comments) says:

    @scrubone don’t we already have law for that?

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  16. Brian Smaller (4,024 comments) says:

    This law is in response to “cyber bullying” of teens, not defamation of accountants. It is a waste of time.

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