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Cyberbullying: education focus welcome, fishhooks remain

Cyberbullying proposals: education focus welcome, fishhooks remain, and workability must be paramount

Media release - 5 April 2013


InternetNZ (Internet New Zealand Inc) welcomes the focus on education and the role of the approved agency in the Government's recently-announced proposal for dealing with harmful digital communications. At the same time, however, the proposal potentially signals significant risks to Internet businesses and end-users.

A Cabinet paper published yesterday spells out a role for "Internet entities" in the proposed new scheme to crack down on electronic communications considered to be harmful.

“While the cyberbullying proposal takes a positive step in fostering good digital citizenship among New Zealanders, some implications for Internet businesses in the new scheme lack clarity, and there are things in the proposal that people won’t be aware of, but may find concerning," says InternetNZ spokesperson Susan Chalmers.

There are some serious concerns raised by some of the proposals in the Cabinet paper regarding which 'Internet entities' may be affected.

Do New Zealanders want web-based email services to be subject to take-down orders? Do people understand that such orders, as outlined in the Cabinet paper, could be based on lower legal standards than is the case today – and could be imposed on people without them being part of the Court’s proceedings?

On the question of intermediaries, generally speaking these companies facilitate transactions between third parties on the Internet. Your traditional ISP like Telecom or Vodafone is one type of Internet intermediary. Facebook is another. Search engines are yet another. They are quite different businesses, capable of different roles in the proposed scheme.

While the Cabinet paper reflects a general understanding that there are different types of ‘Internet entities’, it appears to assume that they're all capable of helping in the same way - of taking down content, when that is not the case.

It is important to clearly understand the detail of the Internet environment before legislating for it. For this legislation to be workable, it needs to be crystal clear on who, exactly, they want to involve in taking down harmful content and how they expect that to be done. Treating ‘Internet entities’ under law as all the same would not work.

These are just some of the fishhooks that need to be sorted out to make these proposals more workable. Law and policy should work with the architecture of the Internet, not against it. The proposal does not yet meet that standard – but it can be improved so that it does.

“Done right, New Zealand law in this area could become a model for other countries to follow," says Chalmers. “Done wrong, the problems it will create for society could grow to become just as concerning as the problem of harmful digital communications it is trying to solve.”

InternetNZ looks forward to working with officials, the Minister and the Select Committee to tackle these concerns and see New Zealand leading the world in making the Internet a safer place for all.

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