4 Apr 2013

New law aimed at curbing cyber bullying

10:37 pm on 4 April 2013

Online bullies could face up to three years in prison under proposed new cyber laws.

Justice Minister Judith Collins on Thursday announced details of legislation she said is aimed at curbing the growing trend of cyber bullying.

The proposals include setting up an agency as a first port of call for complaints, and creating an offence of incitement to commit suicide which could result in up to three years in jail.

The proposed laws will also make it a crime to send messages and post material online that is offensive, resulting in three months in prison or a $2000 fine.

Ms Collins told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Thursday it is estimated the agency will deal with about 1000 complaints a year, and about 100 of those will go before the courts.

"The district court is a last port of call ... really for those persistent bullies who will not stop their behaviour, who do not care that someone else is feeling that they can't go anywhere except to kill themselves."

She said the agency will cost $1 million to $2.5 million a year to run and the money would come from the existing justice budget.

Council for Civil Liberties internet spokesperson Thomas Beagle doubts that district court judges will have the knowledge to make decisions about the internet and deal with complaints appropriately.

But an internet safety group says the proposed laws to tackle bullying online would be at the leading edge of cyber law. NetSafe chairperson Rick Shera says it is definitely time for legislation to be strengthened.

"We will have to wait to see the actual devil in the details, as it were, to see whether there are any flaws.

"And I think when we saw the draft legislation which was attached to the Law Commission's report, there were certainly some areas that needed some work and I'm sure that will happen as it goes through the process. Overall, I think this is a good proposal."

Mr Shera says Netsafe is one of the groups mooted to become the proposed agency to deal with complaints.

A victim of cyber bullying, Jess Wilson, says she would support the new laws proposing harsher penalties for perpetrators.

Ms Wilson told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme that she started to receive anonymous threatening emails, featuring pictures of skulls and murdered women, when she was 20.

She says the problem is a lot worse than people realise and she would like to see jail terms introduced.

Ms Wilson says her life would have been easier if these laws were around when she was bullied in 2009.

The bill will be introduced to Parliament later this year.