Sci & Tech

Cyberbullying Now a Crime in NZ

Cyberbullying Now a Crime in NZCyberbullying Now a Crime in NZ

New Zealand has passed its first anti-cyberbullying bill. The Harmful Digital Communications Bill passed its third and final reading on Friday night.

The bill's criminal and "safe harbor" provisions will come into effect once the legislation is given royal assent, expected Monday morning. Work will then begin on appointing the approved agency, NBR reported.

The bill's key elements include a fine of up to 50,000 NZD for an individual or up to 200,000 NZD for a body corporate, or up to two years jail for posting or sending a “harmful digital communication”—aka cyberbullying with a post likely to cause distress. The bill covers racist, sexist and religiously intolerant comments plus those about disabilities.

It also states that those who cyber bully will get up to three years jail for the new crime of incitement to suicide.

And that an “approved agency” will advocate on behalf of complainants. The aim is that the agency will be able to make direct contact with web publishers and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, where a member of the public often has trouble getting heard (the Law Commission has recommended NetSafe be the approved agency). Other provisions include a grace period for removing content as well as a task force to tackle the issue.

The bill passed relatively easily with 116 to 5. The legislation drew immediate flak on social media.

Former InternetNZ chief executive Vikram Kumar said if only this could be applied posthumously. As with any new law, it will take precedent-setting cases to define its boundaries. Tech Liberty co-founder Thomas Beagle said he was disappointed the "flawed" law had passed. The Council for Civil Liberties executive committee member has criticized the bill for undermining free speech and questioned whether many of its measures will prove practical.

  No Law is Perfect

“No legislation is perfect and this is no exception," current InternetNZ chief executive Jordan Carter says.

"Like all law that applies in a fast-moving technology environment, the risk is of unintended consequences or chosen balances of rights not working out in practice.

In recognition of this, InternetNZ calls upon parliamentarians to keep a careful eye on the implementation of this legislation to ensure that appropriate balance is maintained.

"We must all remain vigilant that we have appropriate responses to online harm without damaging free expression.

“I know many in the Internet community will be keeping a close eye on this. Parliament and the government will be, too. That is, as it should be. If there is any sign that the good intentions behind this legislation are instead leading to unacceptable restrictions on people’s right to communicate, then quick changes will be important."