A digital bill of rights

David Cunliffe announced:

Citizens will have their access to the internet guaranteed and be protected from blanket mass surveillance under ’s proposed digital bill of rights, Leader and ICT spokesperson David Cunliffe says.

“Kiwis are technology-savvy people who rely on the internet for fundamental daily activities such as banking and communicating with friends, family and colleagues.

“Unfortunately the legal framework to protect New Zealanders’ online hasn’t kept up with the pace of technology.

“Labour will work with stakeholders to develop a digital bill of rights which would address these concerns while making New Zealand a more stable and secure place for businesses to use and store data.

I think in principle this is good idea, although of course details are key. It would be good to have perhaps a draft published before the election, so it can be critiqued.

“The highlighting of international mass surveillance by Edward Snowdon and concerns around the practices of our own Government Communications and Security Bureau has left many Kiwis feeling their online information is vulnerable.

“Such legislation would protect people from the digital equivalent of warrantless phone tapping. While it wouldn’t override current GCSB powers, it would set a principle which would be used to replace the Government’s controversial new legislation.

I’m unsure if this means any change at all. Yeah, Nah maybe.

“It would also guarantee freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion, while still outlawing hate speech.

No Right Turn points out that hate speech is not currently outlawed, so this could be interpreted as leading to more censorship:

This sounds good – but its actually an erosion compared to what we have at present. Those freedoms, whether offline or on, are currently protected by the BORA. But hate speech isn’t outlawed in practical terms (there is a crime of inciting racial disharmony, but there was only a single prosecution under the 1971 Act, and the consensus now is that the BORA has made it almost impossible to prosecute). So that “still” hides a massive crackdown on online expression. It may be expression we don’t like, that we find hateful and offensive, but that doesn’t justify outlawing it, any more than it justifies outlawing rickrolling. Which means the answer to Labour’s proposal has to be “no thanks”. Protect freedom of speech unambiguously according to BORA standards or piss off.

And so what should be a hands-down policy win for Labour turns into a mess, because they took a good idea and poisoned it, in the process alienating the very groups the policy was aimed at winning support from. Heckuva job you’re doing there guys. Good luck with that election-thing.

InternetNZ has commented:

InternetNZ (Internet New Zealand Inc) says that parts of Labour’s proposed Digital Bill of Rights are excellent, but parts of it may be unnecessary.

InternetNZ supports guaranteeing New Zealanders’ access to the Internet. InternetNZ CEO Jordan Carter believes that this is crucial discussion to have, given the importance of Internet access to modern day living.

“Getting online is becoming essential and those who are unable to do so are at risk of becoming second-class citizens. Enshrining a right for all Kiwis to be able to access the Internet is something a modern-day society should be looking at. Whether legislation is the right answer or not aside, the issue is an important one.

“We want to see more thinking from our political parties on how to close New Zealand’s digital divide and we look forward to working across the political spectrum to provide New Zealand with the strongest digital future we can.”

In its press release, Labour also said that the new Bill of Rights would “guarantee freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion while still outlawing hate speech.” Mr Carter says that New Zealand has law in force that already does this.

“In New Zealand we have the . Many of the issues outlined in Labour’s proposal – and indeed in the Harmful Digital Communications Bill – could be solved if we re-worked the Bill of Rights for a 21st Century New Zealand. There is no reason to think that laws governing behaviour online should be different to laws offline.

I think the intent is good, and that having a discussion over whether we should have a digital bill of rights is a good discussion to have. I support Labour’s initiative in this area, but again the key is what actually goes in the DBOR. Make it too general and it may have no impact. Make it too specific and you could have the Government having to fund Internet connections for every household. The challenge is to find that sensible balance.

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