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Harmful Digital Communications Bill Passes

Controversial cyber-bullying law has completed its passage through Parliament.

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill completed its third reading despite many MPs expressing misgivings and calling for a review if it does have a chilling effect on free speech.

The bill sets up new offences for cyber-bulling and a new regime to reduce harmful digital communications and police them.

Jacinda Ardern said Labour felt “wedged” on the bill. No one doubted harmful digital communications were bad and modern technology had made bullying and abuse far larger in scope. Labour was in the position where it had to be seen to do something, but had misgivings about the bill.

Ms Ardern said she hoped the House would revisit the legislation in one year’s time if it had the effects critics said it would such as limiting free speech.

National’s Jacqui Dean said the bill was structured to ameliorate the concerns over the impingement of freedom of speech. The bill had its foundation in the work of the Law Commission following a number of distressing incidents of cyber-bullying especially against vulnerable younger people.

Green MPs split their vote with David Clendon saying the bill filled a gap in the law which needed to done. The party said Gareth Hughes, Russel Norman, Julie Anne Genter and Steffan Browning had concerns about the possibility this legislation impact on New Zealanders and their right to freedom of speech and their votes were cast against it.

Gareth Morgan said no MP was standing up for those who did harm to others, but while the intent was good the law was badly conceived and the wrong solution to the right question. The bill was too broad and made some activities illegal on-line while there were legal off-line.

The bill completed its third reading by 116 to 5 with National, Labour, NZ First, Maori Party and United Future in favour. The Greens were 10 in favour and four opposed, ACT was also opposed.

MPs then returned to the committee stage of the Environmental Reporting Bill

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