Anti-cyber bullying bill progresses

A new law to stamp out cyber bullying has passed through another parliamentary stage.

MPs debated the second reading of the Harmful Digital Communications bill on Tuesday night. It will create a new offence of sending messages or posting material to cause harm, punishable by up to two years in jail or a $2000 fine. 

Inciting someone to commit suicide will carry a maximum three-year jail sentence.

National and support partners United Future, ACT and the Maori Party voted for the legislation. 

But the bill has critics - including Labour and NZ First. There are concerns the new law will limit free speech, and may criminalise teenagers with harsh penalties.

The law also goes much further than proposals in Australia and the UK, which are less punitive.

Labour's Clare Curran says she supports the intent of the bill - and cyber bullying is "horrible."

But the legislation is poorly drafted and there was no input from young people, she added.  Labour are willing to work with Justice Minister Amy Adams with any amendments at the next committee stages.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said he had raised "major concerns" about the bill with Adams and cannot guarantee his support at the next Parliamentary stage.

He said there may be some amendments from the Government which will allay fears, but won't confirm his vote until he has seen them.

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"I have given no commitment to support the Bill beyond the second reading, in view of the concerns that have been expressed, and pending the government's response to those concerns," he said.

His concerns centred on "criminalisation and law of unintended consequences...concerns about scope of coverage, and enforceability."

Adams says the bill will "prevent and reduce the harm caused by cyber bullying and harassment."

"Harmful digital communications include emails, texts and social media posts that people use to intimidate others, spread damaging or degrading rumours and publish invasive and distressing photographs," she said.

The new law establishes an "approved agency" to hear complaints against online tormentors and educate the public.  "This Bill has the potential to stop cyberbullies and reduce the devastating impact their actions can have," Adams said.

"Importantly, our proposals also empower victims, by providing a quick, low-cost and effective way to right the wrongs done to them."

 - Stuff

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