Cyber bullies could be sent to jail for up to three years under new Government proposals aimed at protecting victims of online bullying.
“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,” Justice Minister Judith Collins said.
The proposals include 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 three years imprisonment.
It would also be an offence to send messages and post material online that was grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing or knowingly false, punishable by up to three months imprisonment or a $2000 fine.
An approved agency would be set up as the first port of call for complaints, while serious complaints could be taken to the district court, which would be able to issue sanctions including take-down orders.
“People needing help will get fast support including liaison with website hosts and ISPs to request take-down or moderation of clearly offensive posts,” Collins said.
“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.”
Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker said the proposals reflected, almost entirely, recommendations made last year by the Law Commission.
“We think they are a really sensible set of proposals. What happened through the process is that both issues of cyber bullying and the need to protect freedom of speech and opinions on the internet were considered. So the final proposals are a balanced approach to combating cyber bullying, in our opinion.”
He cautioned that, while it was relatively easy to write legislation, it was difficult to make those laws practically enforceable on the internet. The new proposals sought to do that through a new agency and new powers.
The interesting part for Netsafe was the idea of an approved agency to try to coordinate complainants and those harassing them into a solution without having to go to court, Cocker said.
“There is a realistic likelihood of a positive outcome under that model.”
The proposals for new offences for which people could be sent to prison were aimed at addressing a gap in the law.
Technology was being used in ways that were offensive and harmful and law enforcement agencies did not have clarity about how to deal with such problems.
“There is a sector that works pretty hard to protect the internet against any sort of controls and … that sector will always be uneasy about new regulations, but I think the new regulations did take their concerns into consideration,” Cocker said.
“It’s important to recognise that these proposals aren’t about controlling the internet or filtering or putting mechanisms onto the internet. These proposals are focused on people causing the harm and people being harmed.”
Collins said under the proposals harassment, privacy and human rights laws would be amended to ensure the were up-to-date for digital communications.
Source: Cyber bullies face jail under new Govt plan. Story by Michael Daly. 4 April 2013
Fairfax NZ News