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New legislation targets cyberbullying

Anti-cyberbullying legislation will be introduced to Parliament today, Prime Minister John Key says.

The PM says the Harmful Digital Communicatiosn Bill will help stop incidents like the "roast busters" - a group of young men accused of having underage sex with intoxicated girls, then posting bragging footage to Facebook.

The actions the roast busters bragged about are already illegal. It's against the law to have sex with someone under the age of 16, let alone when they're drunk and vulnerable. Police say the issue is that while the girls involved have been interviewed, none of them are willing to make a formal complaiint (the situation is also coloured by TV3 reporting one of the accused young men is the son of a police officer).

Hopefully, the new legislation will give a mechanism for complainants to come forward without feeling they're vulnerable to humiliation.

New incitement to suicide offence
Justice Minister Judith Collins has already flagged the legislation, or parallel changes to the Crimes Act, will include a new "incitement to suicide" offence, punishable by up to three years in prison. Charges could be laid even if a person does not take their life (and various media outlets have reported that at least one Roast Busters victim has attempted suicide).

Fines, jail for posting menancing content
The legislation will also make it an offence to send messages and post material online that is grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing or knowingly false, punishable by up to three months' imprisonment or a $2000 fine.

Advocate for those being bullied
And perhaps most importantly, it will set up an "approved agency" to help resolve cyberbullying incidents. 

It's widely expected that approved agency will be the part government and police-funded Netsafe (as recommended by the Law Commission).

It will be good to see NetSafe with a beefed up role, and presumably more resource.

Cyberbullying is persuasive, but most incidents don't make the kind of headlines that make the likes of Facebook sit up and listen. Most parents and teachers don't have a prayer of reaching a human when they contact one of the big social media network sites - which have good policies but are simply swamped by millions of communications from users. Netsafe does have good contacts, and can get cut-through.

Escalate to District Court judges
If Netsafe doesn't get any traction resolving a complaint, the new legislation has provision (according to Ms Collins' preview) for it to be sent to a panel of District Court judges.

The judges will have the power to issue take-down orders or cease-and-desist notices.

Name and shame?
The Law Commission also wanted a "name and shame" provision; from the Justice Minister's April preview it was not clear if that would be included in the legislation. I'm not sure if it's a good idea. It's hard to feel any sympathy for various Roast Busters members being named by the media, but vigilantism can get as ugly as bullying - and naming the perpetrators makes it more likely the victims will be identified, or won't lay a complaint because of fear of being identified and further humiliated.

The PM claims the timing of the bill is a coincidence (and Ms Collins has always said it would be in front of the House before year's end). 

Privacy advocates, including Mega CEO Vikram Kumar and Tech Liberty's Thomas Beagle, do have concerns the legislation could be heavy-handed, and trample legitimate free speech. Hopefully those qualms will be addressed as the legislation goes through its various readings and the select committee process. Overall, the legislation looks like a positive, and a sensible (if long overdue) move to keep up with technology.

Ms Collins says it will take around six months for the Harmful Digital Communicatiosn Bill to make its way through Parliament.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz

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Comments and questions
10

Not sure what you mean by respect but Im happy to extend the definition to confronting behaviour which endangers others. In this case buying and selling sex. If you think they cant handle that maybe youre the problem.
Anyway you assume my dig is at the woman behind prostitution but it is in fact at men. Gender is really a sideshow here.
Our experience with alcohol and cigarettes and the trend for antisocial behavior to extend below legal age limits means that in the far more serious area of sexual exploitation, the exploitation of young girls is guaranteed while we allow a culture of sexual exploitation of women.
Legalising prostitution sent a clear message particularly to people who derive their morals from legal bottomlines that sexual exploitation is ok.
It is not.

The "Roast Busters" are not cyber bullies. Raping young girls, filming it and posting it online is not cyberbullying. It is rape, paedophillia and child pornography.

As noted in the story, what the group is alleged to have done is already illegal. There is also a cyberbully element in posting brag videos online - which has perhaps played a role in helping to cower the victims into silence for fear of further public humiliation. The legislation introduced today addresses that.

I always thought the police were here to help prevent crime and protect the public. Not be an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, waiting for crime to take place and then seeing if anything can be done.
What on earth is going on here!

It's hard to believe the timing is entirely coincidental.

It is no stretch to believe governments' ideal version of the internet is one where all identities are known (no anonymity) and all communications or comments are traceable back to a person's true identity.

Unfortunately this is like bottom trawling the ocean. As well as catching the actual targets, such legislative efforts will be in danger of having a massive negative effect on privacy, and in turn, much that is great about the internet.

The problem with any internet-oriented legislation is that almost all politicians have proven themselves to be complete luddites when it comes to parliamentary discussion, e.g. referring to it as Skynet.

The Roast Busters issue need to be addressed. However, ideally this should not be yet another example of the govt misusing an issue to force through legislation that undermines freedom and privacy.

Anonymous is utterly correct. Imagine if this occurred in India and what we would all be thinking then.

Not sure a law change is required - there is a Common Law precedent, which may be applicable. In R v Brown (1994) House of Lords held that a victim cannot consent to being assualted (in Brown the victmns did not even lay a complaint I seem to recall). If the boys have boasted about their exploits on line, that in itself might sufficient for a prosecution.

By leaving the facebook site up for 2.5 years the Police should be charged as accessories to rape & criminal use of the internet.

Police told media they temporarily left the site up for operational and tactical reasons.

Cyberbullying is persuasive -> pervasive?