Harmful Digital Communications Bill passes third reading

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill has passed its third reading in Parliament.

The bill will see new offences implemented for cyber-bullying with a goal of reducing harmful digital communication and policing the issue.

The necessity of taking more action on cyber-bullying has been thrust into the spotlight a number of times by agencies dealing with the impact of cyber-bullying on teens in particular.

During the select committee process a number of organisations identified links between cyber-bullying and suicide, while highlighting the fact that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of youth suicide, among young men in particular.

While support on strengthening the law regarding cyber-bullying was a notion shared across the board in Parliament some MPs raised concerns over the bill in its current state.

Labour’s Jacinda Ardern said no one doubted harmful digital communications were bad but Labour had misgivings about the bil and felt “wedged” and she hoped it would be revisited in one year’s time.

Green MPs had a split vote with Gareth Hughes, Russel Norman, Julie Anne Genter and Steffan Browning raising concerns about the possibility this legislation could impact on New Zealanders and their right to freedom of speech and their votes were cast against it.

Those against it outlined they were not in support of harmful behaviour, however highlighted the law was the wrong solution to the right question and was too broad.

Minister of Justice, Amy Adams says, "The measures we’re bringing in will simplify the process for getting harmful communications off the internet quickly and effectively, while still respecting free speech rights,” 

The Bill will:

• Establish an Approved Agency to resolve complaints in a quick and efficient way

• Give the District Court the power to issue take-down notices and impose penalties

• Provide online content hosts with an Safe Harbour process for handling complaints

• Make it an offence to send messages and post material online that deliberately cause serious emotional distress

• Fills a gap in the law by creating a new offence of incitement to commit suicide that applies where the person does not attempt to take their own life

• Amend existing laws to clarify that they apply to communications, regardless of whether tormentors use online or offline means, and future-proofing the laws against technological advances.

The bill completed its third reading by 116 to 5 with National, Labour, NZ First, Māori Party and United Future in favour. The Greens were 10 in favour and four opposed, ACT was also opposed.