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Web Filter System For Extremist Content Online Needs Proper Development Process

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa has told a parliamentary select committee it supports a bill giving effect to the Government’s Christchurch Call commitment (a commitment by several governments and technology companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online) but recommends that the details of the proposed web filter system should be set out in legislation, not regulations.

The Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Urgent Interim Classification of Publications and Prevention of Online Harm) Amendment Bill will amend the 2013 Act as part of a wider government programme to address violent extremism online.

The Law Society addressed the Government and Administration committee today about its submission on the bill, and said the Bill is important and is supported, but the development of a web filter system needs a proper legislative process before it is rolled out.

"The Bill authorises regulations to be developed to address operational matters including reporting obligations of internet service providers. It is not clear from the Bill what type of web filter is intended. Regardless, this proposal will engage a host of privacy, data protection and freedom of expression issues that the Bill makes no attempt to grapple with", Law Society spokesperson Nick Whittington says.

The Law Society recognises the proposal as one worth exploring, but says the proposed provisions are not an appropriate way to proceed.

"Developing a web filter system in this way is inappropriate having regard to the important rights and issues at stake", Mr Whittington says.

The Law Society recommends that if a filter system is to be established, it should be created in primary legislation which has the full scrutiny of a proper legislative process - investigation and detailed specification of the proposed policy, consultation and feedback, drafting of a bill, and the ability for the public to make submissions via the select committee process.

The Law Society also made several other recommendations to improve the bill’s workability including:

- removing the ambiguous reference to "stream" in the new livestreaming offence;

- clarifying the wording of provisions relating to interim classifications; and

- clarifying the review provisions relating to take-down notices.


The Law Society’s submission on the Bill is available here: https://www.lawsociety.org.nz/assets/Law-Reform-Submissions/Films-Videos-and-Publications-Classification.pdf

The Bill is available here: https://legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2020/0268/latest/LMS294551.html

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