Harmful Digital Communications Bill passes into legislation

Thu 09 Jul 2015

A Bill which seeks to prevent cyberbullying and better support victims passed its third and final reading in Parliament on 30 June 2015. The ...

A Bill which seeks to prevent cyberbullying and better support victims passed its third and final reading in Parliament on 30 June 2015.

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill introduces measures to address damaging online communications, provide remedies and hold perpetrators to account. The Bill will:

  • "Establish an Approved Agency to resolve complaints in a quick and efficient way
  • Give the District Court the power to issue take-down notices and impose penalties
  • Provide online content hosts with an Safe Harbour process for handling complaints
  • Make it an offence to send messages and post material online that deliberately cause serious emotional distress
  • Fills a gap in the law by creating a new offence of incitement to commit suicide that applies where the person does not attempt to take their own life
  • Amend existing laws to clarify that they apply to communications, regardless of whether tormentors use online or offline means, and future-proofing the laws against technological advances."

Read more about the Bill in a previous Clearinghouse news story.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said "This Bill tackles cyberbullying head on. Under existing laws, trying to remove abusive, intimidating and distressing material from the internet can be difficult, drawn out and costly, and there are few sanctions available to aid such efforts and to hold offenders to account. The measures we’re bringing in will simplify the process for getting harmful communications off the internet quickly and effectively, while still respecting free speech rights."

Opponents of the Bill criticised the legislation with concerns it could limit free speech and criminalise young people. The 'safe harbour' provision was also criticised as undermining the intent of the Bill. The Human Rights Commission released a statement which said the "Commission recognises that although some opponents of the Bill may argue it infringes the right to freedom of expression the Commission considers that restriction justified in order to protect vulnerable people and children in particular." Commissioner David Rutherford said "The Bill strikes the right balance between freedom of expression and the need to prevent or reduce harm to others."

The Bill received Royal Assent on 2 July 2015.

Further information and resources

The Clearinghouse has also collated New Zealand and international research and resources to support people experiencing digital stalking.

The Ministry of Justice provides information for online content hosts on the safe harbour provisions.

Vodafone and YouGov conducted a global survey (including New Zealand) which found more than half of teenagers think cyberbullying is worse than face-to-face bullying. In response to the survey findings Vodafone launched the #BeStrong anti-cyberbullying emoji initiative which is available on Vodafone and Vodafone Foundation social media platforms as part of a donation campaign.

YouthLaw have published a YouTube video New Cyberbullying Law.

On 1 July 2015, the Australian Government established an "Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner." The Office was established as part of new legislation, the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act 2015. The Office will receive complaints about cyberbullying material or illegal online content. The Office has the power to issue a notice to a large social media service requiring it to take down cyberbullying material which targets an Australian child.

The NSPCC (UK) hosts the campaign Share Aware, which helps children stay safe on social networks, apps and games and NetAware which provides a guide for parents to websites, games or apps children use. NSPCC also provides information on What is online abuse.

The UK Safer Internet Centre has published the video #Up2Us created by 150 school children sharing their internet experiences, both good and bad.

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation (UK) has published What's the problem?: A guide for parents of children and young people who have got in trouble online which is designed to answer questions parents may have after learning that something is happening, or has happened in a child's online life.

The Safety Net Project by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (USA) has published Social Networking & Privacy Tips for Domestic & Sexual Violence Programs which addresses safety risks and confidentiality for programmes using social media platforms.


The Government is seeking to appoint an Approved Agency under the new legislation. The Approved Agency will receive complaints about cyberbullying and play a role in reducing harassment or bullying by advising on policies and educating people on appropriate online behaviour. The Government has released a Request for Information on GETS.


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Image: Pixabay