'Alliance' needed to enforce name suppression online

Solicitor-General David Collins has called for countries to form alliances to fight those who breach court suppression orders by sending information to overseas websites.

At a seminar in Wellington organised by InternetNZ, Dr Collins argued the proliferation of the internet put governments at a technological disadvantage compared with the public "for perhaps the first time in history".

People who publish suppressed information in New Zealand can be prosecuted domestically but others have got around suppression orders by leaking the information to overseas websites.

Dr Collins recommended reciprocal agreements between governments to combat the problem. "We should not be constrained by the strict confines of New Zealand's shores when attempting to regulate improper conduct that occurs over a borderless internet."

Media organisations have criticised the permanent name suppression granted to a prominent entertainer who admitted performing an indecent act towards a teenage girl. He was discharged without conviction last month.

It has been argued the suppression was unnecessary because the celebrity's name had been widely spread over the internet and social networking sites. Even Prime Minister John Key said he knew who the celebrity was.

Law Commission deputy president Warren Young said removing the right for celebrities to claim name suppression would risk creating a "separate class of people".

Judge David Harvey told the seminar that internet providers (ISPs) should be set up specifically to block suppressed information and issue "take-down" notices to those who had posted it. "Internet content can in fact be managed and controlled. It is a question ... of how far we want to go to do that."

Blogger Lance Wiggs said that would not stop information being spread by social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook or between bloggers. "ISPs can't [control] that. I would say that the horse has already bolted." Judge Harvey replied: "I'm sure if the Chinese can do it, we can."

Dr Collins said there had been difficulties forcing ISPs overseas to remove suppressed material from websites they hosted.

"If you can get the principal ISPs, such as Yahoo, co-operating with New Zealand, we see that as a massive achievement.

"I think it would be a major step forward if we were able to get agreement with major players particularly in the United States."

The US Attorney-General's office "will have more say over private companies such as Yahoo", he said.

Mr Young argued that just because breaching suppression via the internet was easy to do and hard to enforce against, as with shoplifting, it did not mean "we should simply give up".

The Dominion Post