Please define 'internet nuisance' Judith Collins? | The Jackal

15 Aug 2012

Please define 'internet nuisance' Judith Collins?

Today, the NZ Herald reported:

A new tribunal to fight cyber-bullying would have the power to name and shame offenders.

It would also be able to silence cyber bullies by issuing "takedown" orders.

A new criminal offence for publishing offensive comments on Facebook and Twitter and sending hurtful text messages would also be introduced under the Law Commission proposals.

The measures are in a ministerial briefing issued today for Justice Minister Judith Collins as part of a Government crackdown on internet nuisances.

I wonder what Collins considers is an internet nuisance? Such a broad reference could include those with a strong political opinion and the tribunal might in fact be used as a tool to silence the governments critics.

Bringing such repressive measures in on the back of reducing cyber-bullying would be an easy enough thing to do. Any valid opposition to the proposal would be met with more references to people committing suicide because of text messaging, which is a terrible thing indeed, but should not be used to justify repressing people's opinion.

It's a fine line to tread and what makes me suspicious is that there are already laws in place to deal with cyber-bullying. Despite what many people believe, the internet is already covered by these laws. The problem is that the Police are simply failing to uphold them. This of course comes down to funding and prioritization of time, so perhaps an independent entity is required.

The Communications Tribunal would operate like a "mini-harassment court" specialising in digital communication, said project leader Professor John Burrows.

It could issue statutory orders including cease and desist notices or orders requiring retractions, apologies or rights of reply. It could also reveal the identity of offenders, via the media or in its decisions published online.

As an anonymous blogger who often criticizes the government, I find it somewhat concerning that National is looking at setting up an organisation that has the powers to out people without them being found guilty of any specific crime. Surely such cases where harm is proven are best judged by a court of law before any naming and shaming occurs?

The proposal appears to be centered on the ability of the complainant to prove substantial emotional distress, which is often a subjective thing specific to the complainant. Of course there will be clear cut cases, but presently it seems that such wide arching powers could be open to abuse.