13 May 2012

Minister fast-tracks moves to tackle cyber-bullying

6:06 am on 13 May 2012

Action on tackling cyber-bullying could be just weeks away, now that Justice Minister Judith Collins has asked the Law Commission to fast-track its recommendations.

Commission president Sir Grant Hammond says the recommendations will be completed in a matter of weeks rather than at the end of the year.

Ms Collins says young people's lives are increasingly enmeshed in social media that puts them at risk from the harm that can be caused by people using the internet maliciously.

She says technology has moved on from telephones to computers and other electronic devices, and legislation has to reflect that.

Changes being considered by the commission in a report on new media include a new offence of maliciously impersonating another person on the web. It is also looking at:

  • Whether incitement to suicide should be made a criminal offence, regardless of whether a suicide or suicide attempt actually occurs;
  • Extending the definition of misuse of a telephone to cover electronic devices;
  • Amending the Harassment Act 1997 to ensure its provisions apply to cyber-bullying and other online intimidation;
  • Amending the Human Rights Act to include digital publications in some of its provisions and define cyberspace as a "public place".

Sir Grant says a communications tribunal operating at a lower level than the courts system could be set up to enforce anti-cyber-bullying legislation.

One possibility, he says, would be to attach the enforcement prodecure to the Human Rights Commission, thus helping to reduce the inevitable cost of enforcing the law changes.

Privacy Act 'needs more teeth'

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff says she hopes swift changes can be made to the Privacy Act to deal with cyber-bullying and digital media generally, because it currently doesn't have a lot of teeth in these situations.

One example, Ms Shroff says, is the inability to issue notices requiring offensive material to be removed from the internet.

The executive director of the internet safety group Netsafe, Martin Cocker, says changing laws is just one part of the solution.

Mr Cocker says the more copies that are made of offensive material the more harm is done to the victim, so a mechanism is needed to enforce the law and ensure the material can be promptly removed.

"Things are replicated quickly online," Mr Cocker says, "and that makes the harm that's done permanent."