The country passed the the Harmful Digital Communications Bill, in the hope of stemming “cyber-bullying”.
If you use digital communications to cause “serious emotional distress” to a person you open yourself to an escalating series of punishments.
Starting with negotiation, mediation or persuasion the law can create offences such as not complying with an order, and “causing harm by posting digital communication”.
The most serious offenders would face two years in jail or a maximum fine of NZ$33,900.
Gareth Hughes, one of the four Greens MPs to vote against the bill, said it was overly broad and risked limiting freedom of expression.
The opposition Labour party said that it was “wedged” by the NZ government: while some of the bill was “worthy of discussion” the law had “deeply worrying” elements.
The bill covers posts that are racist, sexist, or show religious intolerance, along with hassling people over disability or sexual orientation. There’s also a new offence of incitement to suicide which carries a three years’ jail sentence.
The regime will be enforced by a yet-to-be-established agency that will make contact with publishers and social media platforms, and if it can’t resolve a complaint, the agency will be able to escalate it to the district court.
A platform like Facebook or Twitter can opt into the safe harbour – but only if they agree to remove allegedly offending material either on-demand or within the bill’s 48-hour grace period.
It is also interesting because it is a law which potentially criminalises children over the age of 14.