Anti online bullying law

January 12, 2016 by

Anti online bullying law

While the progress on the New Zealand privacy law reform has been slow, it took the New Zealand Parliament just over three years to enact the anti online bullying law. The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 was passed to prevent and mitigate harm caused to individuals by digital communications.Internet

The new anti online bullying law is – similar to the Privacy Act 1993 – principle based. The new law introduced 10 so-called Communications Principles. Among other things, these principles state that digital communications should not: “disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual”, “be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual”, “make a false allegation” or “contain a matter that is published in breach of confidence.”

The process under the new legislation

An aggrieved person of online bullying may complain to the online content host if one of these communication principles is alleged to have been breached and harm has been caused as a consequence. Online content hosts include internet, telecommunications and media companies, as well as people who run websites, blogs, social media pages and online forums on which other people can post material such as comments, pictures and videos.


Online content hosts must provide for a complaint handling process and respond to a complaint within a certain time frame. By following the prescribed process, online content hosts will be protected from being sued over the content posted by others (so-called ‘safe harbour’ similar to those found in copyright laws).

The new law means more red-tape and compliance cost for online content providers. This confirms a growing trend to involving online service providers more directly in the handling of disputes between users.

A complainant will be able to escalate the complaint to an “approved agency” which is yet to be established. The approved agency will be able to investigate complaints and make direct contact with the online content host such as Facebook or Twitter.

If the approved agency makes no headway, the complaint can be further escalated to the District Court which will have increased powers to intervene in cases of online abuse by issuing for instance take down notices, cease and desist order, order to publish a correction and impose penalties on people who don’t comply with court orders (punishable by up to six months in prison or a $5,000 fine for individuals, and fines of up to $20,000 for companies).

One of the key changes – and also the most debated one – is the change to the defence of information being publicly available. Publicly available information cannot be shared or reposted if it would be “unfair or unreasonable to disclose” the information.

This means that New Zealand’s Internet will have to change as it can no longer be assumed that material that has already been posted on online can be reposted or shared without incurring liability. It will certainly take a while for these changes to be fully understood and accepted by Internet users.

The anti online bulling law has been criticised for censoring free speech. A detailed analysis of those concerns can be found here.