Cyber-law centre to fight online bullying

The new national centre will offer education and conduct research on how digital technology affects the law in New Zealand.

by Miklos Bolza  17 Jun 2016

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A new bill will allow a person to be tried and convicted of a criminal offence without seeing all the information relied on by the Crown and without the right to be present, the NZ Law Society says.

A new national cyber-law centre, the New Zealand Centre for ICT Law, is due to open in July. It was created for legal education as well as research and development into technology’s impact on the law.

Retiring district court Judge David Harvey will become director of the centre – a vital hub for the legal fraternity and the public, he told NZ Herald.

“More and more IT is becoming pervasive throughout our community and it’s providing particular challenges and interesting developments as far as the law is concerned.”

Research was already being conducted on the Harmful Digital Communications Act with future projects including the Search and Surveillance Act, Telecommunications Act and Copyright Act.

Harvey said there were already a number of notable trends around prosecutions stemming from the Harmful Digital Communications Act. For instance, 38 cases had come before the court in the Act’s first year.

“It’s quite a few for a relatively new piece of legislation that’s dealing with not a new phenomenon but a new technology, and it seems that the prosecution people with the police have been able to grapple with some of the aspects of this,” he said.

Other trends included a large number of cases involving revenge porn plus a wide range of electronic media used for the purpose of harming others.

“[The act] catches any information that’s communicated electronically. If you’re making a nasty telephone call using voice on your smartphone, that amounts to an electronic communication. So it’s the scope of the legislation and who’s being picked up that becomes very, very interesting.”

One area of concern was the level of harm brought about through this technology, Harvey said, and that the people involved generally lacked inhibition in what they said and did.

“A number of cases have involved posting intimate photographs and intimate videos online with the intention of harming somebody else. The number of occasions on which that has occurred is surprising.
“I think the level of anger that is expressed or at least the intensity of the language – hate speech – is also a matter of concern.”

The second component of the Act – a civil agency headed up by NetSafe – would also have a major impact, said Harvey.

“It will be interesting to observe how many applications are made to the approved agency in the first place and subsequently how many are settled or resolved or go on to the court. I imagine there will be quite a bit of activity coming up once the civil enforcement regime is in place.”

Although it was still early days for the centre, Harvey also expressed his confidence at its effect on cyberbullying.

“It won’t solve the problem in the same way that making murder a crime doesn’t stop murder but at least it will provide people with a remedy, with a place to go which they haven’t had before,” he said.

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