ISPs not liable for name suppression breaches

A provision has been wiped from the Criminal Procedures Bill that would have held held a person's internet service provider responsible if they blabbed details suppressed by a court order.

A provision has been wiped from the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill that would have held held a person's internet service provider responsible if they blabbed details suppressed by a court order.

Section 216 was wiped altogether when the bill was reported back to parliament today.

The move was welcomed by the lobby group Tech Liberty.

Founder Thomas Beagle (also an executive member of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties) acknowledged it was a problem that the internet could be used to identify a person whose name had been suppressed - particularly given that the web made it easy to pull together individual snippets of information published in different places.

Mr Beagle said it took him only around five minutes to identify Martin Devlin after the broadcaster's name was suppressed earlier this year following a central Auckalnd fracas

In the UK, a privacy "super injunction" over footballer Ryan Giggs' name was rendered meaningless as upwards of 75,000 people named him on Twitter - mirroring similar local outbreaks on the social network over the suppressed names of a musician and a comedian.

But Mr Beagle did not think responsibility should lie with ISPs.

In his submission to the Justice and Electoral Committee, the Tech Liberty principal said it was easy for a publisher of a website to edit its content.

But for the ISP that hosted the website, it was not such an easy task.

"You could think of the internet service provider as a bank, with the individual sites counting as safe deposit boxes within the bank," Mr Beagle said.

"While the bank can control access to the vault with the boxes, it does not hold a key to each box that would allow it to open it and remove a single item. Only the person who rents the box has that key.

"The same holds true for ISPs and websites. While ISPs provide the basic services such as power and internet connection, they have no access into the working of the site." (Read Mr Beagle's full submission here.)

ISPs not arm of the state
InternetNZ also cheered the change.

The organisation had strongly opposed Section 216.

“In our submission to the committee we had said that there was a false presumption that something had to be done," InternetNZ Chief Executive Vikram Kumar said.

"Rather than trying to make ISPs liable and going down the dangerous path of making them an arm of the state, we are pleased that the law will penalise those who breached a name suppression order in the first place”.

2 comments
Login in or Register to view & post comments