Last week, New Zealand enacted a controversial new law, The Harmful Digital Communications Act, which criminalises cyberbullying and cyber-harassment of individuals. The law applies to everyone and is not limited to children, as is the case in Canada and Australia. Australia and New Zealand often look to each when considering law reform, in light of this we believe the new laws in New Zealand need significant consideration here in Australia.

OHPI will be releasing our thoughts on these changes and their implications next month. In the mean time, here are some of the key features of the new Act:

  • It renders it illegal to intentionally send messages and post material online that causes a victim serious emotional distress. The offence is punishable by up to two years imprisonment or a maximum fine of $50,000 for individuals and a fine of up to $200,000 for companies. It sets out 10 principles for good communication here.
  • The imprisonment increases to up-to-three years in case the material incites the person to take their own life, even in cases where the victim did not attempt to or commit suicide.
  • It creates an alternative procedure where people can complain to online content hosts first – such as social media platforms, social media pages, website owners etc – with request to remove harmful content. If the hosts comply with the procedure, it will limit their liability even if the case was to go to court. This is known as the safe harbour provision and you can read more on this provision here.
  • Over the next two years, an “approved agency” will be established under the Act to resolve complaints about harmful digital communications, providing victims with an independent body to take their complaints to.
  • Over the next two years, the District Court will be given the power to order removal of content. If people don’t comply with the court orders, it is punishable by up to six months in prison or a $5,000 fine for individuals, and fines of up to $20,000 for companies.

You can read more about the law here. To read some initial commentary on the Act, go here, here and here.

A full analysis of the Act by OHPI will be published in August.

Here are more articles by OHPI on cyberbullying, serious trolling and on social media policies.