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Collins' cyberbullying proposals get tick from internet lawyer John Edwards, snarl from privacy campaigner

Justice Minister Judith Collins has outlined a series of measures to prevent cyber-bullying and "grooming".

LATEST: New legislation targets 'Roast Buster'-style cyberbullying

The measures will be enacted in legislation before the end of the year, she says.

Ms Collins has outlined a two-step process: people can complain to an approved agency as their first port of call. (The Justice Minister did not name any agency this morning, but an earlier Law Commission report recommended the part government-funded NetSafe).

If the agency fails to resolve a complaint, it will be able to send a complaint to a District Court judge, whom under th pending legislation will be given the power to issue sanctions such as orders for material to be taken down from a website, and cease-and-desist notices.

New incitement to suicide offence
The pending legislation will 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.

IT will also create a new offence of incitement to commit suicide, even in situations when a person does not attempt to take their own life, punishable by up to three years' imprisonment.

Law Commission's tribunal idea nixed
Wellington lawyer John Edwards, who specialises in online and intellectual property areas, says the most significant thing about this morning's announcement (see RAW DATA below) is that Ms Collins seems to have moved away from the civil enforcement proposed by an earlier Law Commission report, which proposed a new Communications Tribunal.

A spokeswoman for Ms Collins' told NBR the Law Commission had recommended the tribunal be headed by a panel of District Court judges. The Jusice Minister decided it would be better to simply invole the judges directly in the process rather than create a new tribunal.

Mr Edwards says nixing the Tribunal idea a good thing. "I prefer a more staged process," he told NBR. "NetSafe can gauge if the scope of a problem and try to resolve it before we leap to an institutional solution."

Name-and-shame? Maybe
Another Law Commission recommendation was to "name and shame" cyberbullies.

Ms Collins' made no mention of such as measure as she outlined her cyberbullying proposals this morning.

Her office told NBR it was still being decided whether a name-and-shame provision would be included in the coming legislation.

Freedom of expression fear
Tech Liberty founder and Council for Civil Liberties executive committee member Thomas Beagle disagrees.

Speaking for Tech Liberty, he was critical of the move to include judges in the process.

"We think that the agency will be able to help people with problems online, but giving wide powers of internet censorship to District Court judges seems very foolish," Mr Beagle told NBR Online this morning.

"We're still very concerned at the idea of creating a new legal standard for online speech that is different from speech in other areas, and think there are very real freedom of expression concerns that haven't been sufficiently addressed," Mr Beagle says.

Centre right blogger David Farrar agrees, to a degree. He reiterated this morning that some of the proposed principles are f the principles "are too wide-reaching."

The Tech Liberty principal says, "Ultimately this law and these proposals are going to be limited by the nature of the internet which enables anonymity and jurisdiction hopping. The Law Commission failed to show how their proposals would help with problems of digital harm and cyberbullying, and those major flaws haven't been addressed by cabinet." 

Adocate role for agency
Ms Collins says while cyberbullying via a social network can involve people from multiple countries picking on a person, other countries were enacting similar laws, allowing for cross-border cooperation.

The Justice Minister says the agency will have a key role to play as an adocate in situations where bullied people would otherwise make little headway.

While, say, a high school student who called an ISP or large internet service like Facebook, Twitter or Google would have a difficult time, a government backed agency could get a hearing.

That's a valid point. The new law should see NetSafe (or whoever the approved agency turns out to be) making real headway against bullying on mainstream sites.

While they will never publicly comment on it, we have seen clear evidence that sites like Facebook will turnover rogue users when agencies call (read Hutt Valley police arrest fake Facebook user 'Nick Davis').

Mr Beagle is quite correct that the nature of the internet makes it hard to encorce any anti-bullying legislation.

If, say, a determined bully posts offensive material anonymously on a website served from Eastern Europe, there's not much any agency can do about it.

But a lot of everyday bullying takes place via pack behaviour on mainstream social network sites, and here I can see NetSafe making progress.


RAW DATA: Justice Minister Judith Collins' statement

Time’s Up For Cyber Bullies

Justice Minister Judith Collins has announced a raft of new proposals to hold cyber bullies to account for their bullying and harmful online behaviour.

“I am pleased to have developed a set of measures that aim to stop the growing incidence of cyber bullying and its devastating effects, particularly for young people.

“Many New Zealanders share my serious concerns about this problem as the reach and impact of bullying has increased considerably in the digital age.

“Tormenters are able to harass their targets 24 hours a day, seven days a week, wherever they go, and the trail of abuse lives on in cyberspace, following victims for years.

“These new measures send a clear message to cyber bullies: Time’s up. Your behaviour is not acceptable,” Ms Collins says.

New proposals to protect victims of cyber bullying and hold perpetrators to account include:

• Creating a new civil enforcement regime that includes setting up or appointing an approved agency as the first port of call for complaints.
• Allowing people to take serious complaints to the District Court, which will be able to issue sanctions such as take-down orders and cease-and-desist notices.
• Making it an offence to send messages and post material online that is grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing or knowingly false, punishable by up to 3 months imprisonment or a $2,000 fine.
• Creating a new offence of incitement to commit suicide, even in situations when a person does not attempt to take their own life, punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment.
• Amending the Harassment, Privacy and Human Rights Acts to ensure they are up-to-date for digital communications. In some cases, existing laws were written before cell phones, instant messaging devices and social networking websites became common communication channels.

Ms Collins says the proposed new approved agency will help people get the support they need to stop cyber bullying quickly.

“People needing help will get fast support including liaison with website hosts and ISPs to request takedown or moderation of clearly offensive posts.

“The agency will also be able to investigate and resolve complaints directly, with the most serious complaints being referred by the agency to the District Court which can issue take-down orders and cease-and-desist notices.

“Our new anti-cyber bullying proposals protect victims and hold perpetrators to account. No one should ever be subject to this kind of cowardly attack - now with the right support and modern laws in place, victims will no longer have to suffer,” Ms Collins says.

A bill giving effect to the changes will be introduced to Parliament to be passed later this year.

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