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Harmful Digital Communications Bill passage recommended

Parliament's Justice and Electoral Committee has released its report on the Harmful Digital Communications Bill with a recommendation that the bill be passed with amendments.

The bill's objective is mitigation of the harm caused to individuals by electronic communications and to provide victims of harmful digital communications with a quick and effective means of redress.

The bill would create a new civil enforcement regime and new criminal offences to deal with the most seriously harmful digital communications. It would make small amendments to legislation to clarify its application to digital communications and to cover potential technological advances.

Complaints about harmful digital communications would be submitted to the Approved Agency, a body appointed by the Governor-General by Order in Council as the first step in the civil enforcement regime.

The bill sets out 10 communication principles to guide the court and the Approved Agency in assessing whether a digital communication has caused or is likely to cause someone harm. "Harm" is defined as "serious emotional distress".

The bill would also include a safe harbour provision setting out a process for online content hosts to follow to limit their liability for content authored by others.

Among the amendments proposed by the committee:

  • Amending the purpose of the bill to include the deterrence and prevention of harm.
  • Making the Approved Agency subject to the Ombudsmen Act 1975, the Official Information Act 1982, and the Public Records Act 2005, in respect of the functions it would perform.
  • Requiring the Approved Agency, if it takes no further action on a complaint, to notify the complainant of their right to apply to the District Court for an order under the legislation.
  • Amending the bill to include threats to cause harm as grounds for making an order, reflecting the likelihood of harm occurring if the threat were to be carried out.
  • Adjusting the maximum penalties for the new offences of non-compliance with a court order, and causing harm by posting a digital communication to make them consistent with the penalties for similar offences in the Harassment Act 1997.
  • Amending part of the safe harbour provisions to provide for a timely "notice-notice-takedown" approach (a regime of notices followed by enforced takedown) suitable for the wide range of online content hosts. Another amendment would require an online content host who had received a notice of complaint about specific content to notify the author of the content as soon as practicable but no later than 48 hours.

The bill was referred to the committee on 3 December 2013 with submissions closing on 21 February 2014. The committee received 39 submissions and heard 13 of these.



Last updated on the 16th September 2019