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Goff announces changes to censorship laws

Goff announces changes to censorship laws

Censorship law changes targeting child pornography and tougher enforcement of computer-based offending will be introduced by Christmas, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.

The measures include:

An increase in maximum penalties to 10 years' imprisonment for production, trading and distribution of any objectionable material;

Extending the trading and distribution offences to capture all forms of distribution, whether or not any commercial gain was involved;

Creating a new offence of possession "with knowledge", punishable by up to two years imprisonment, to apply where a person had reasonable cause to believe the publication was objectionable;

Extending search warrant powers to include the new possession offence;

New importing and exporting offences to complement the domestic offences and to carry comparable penalties;

Specifying child pornography as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes, as a reflection of society's abhorrence.

“The rapid development of the internet has fundamentally changed patterns of offending since censorship laws were last reformed in 1993,” Mr Goff said.

"The scale of offending via the internet far exceeds anything that was possible when the laws were concerned mainly with books, films and magazines.

"We now have individuals able to access and exchange thousands of objectionable images, to do so anonymously and often without any money changing hands, and to store those images on their home computers.

“The proliferation of child pornography in particular, and the abuse of children in its production, is a worldwide problem.

“Tackling child porn requires effective international co-operation to detect offending, secure evidence, and bring offenders to justice. The reforms approved by Cabinet will bring New Zealand’s laws broadly into line with those of countries such as Canada, Australia and the UK,” Mr Goff said.

The proposals follow a government review of penalty levels and enforcement provisions, and consideration of a wide-ranging report on censorship laws made earlier this year by the Government Administration Select Committee.

Mr Goff said there would be no major changes to the definition of “objectionable”, which sets the standard for banning material under the Act.

“The Court of Appeal has ruled that censorship laws are concerned essentially with pornography, violence, and crime. The government agrees that this is where the focus of the law should remain.

"We will, however, take the opportunity to clarify how the law applies to certain matters, including ‘sexualised’ nude images of children and offensive language or behaviour.”

Mr Goff said the government had also considered whether to extend the scope of censorship laws to deal with issues like 'hate speech' and invasion of privacy, as recommended by the select committee.

“These are both important matters but they do not belong in the censorship laws. Instead, the Ministry of Justice and the Law Commission are going to examine and report on possible legal and legislative responses, including changes to human rights, criminal and privacy laws.

"I am particularly concerned about covert filming of people in intimate situations and would like to move on this as soon as the work can be done.”

Mr Goff said the government had decided not to introduce licensing for Internet Service Providers at this point, due to their generally good level of co-operation and communication with government agencies.

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