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Martin Cocker

Workshops on the Communications Bill are worth attending

InternetNZ is holding workshops on the Communications (New Media) Bill on the afternoons of September 17 (Wellington) and 18 (Auckland).

This is because they say the bill is “controversial”.  I can’t bring myself to call it controversial but I’d still like people to come along to the workshops. It is true that some of the proposals have been challenged, and some could do with further clarification. NetSafe as an “approved agency” is one of the recommendations – so we’ve got a lot of skin in the game. We’ll support any process that contributes to a better outcome.

All around the world, governments are  coming under pressure to find ways to combat cyber bullying and harassment. That is because communications technologies are being used to cause harm. The Law Commission produced an issues paper, received submissions, and produced a briefing paper for the Minister of Justice.  I’ve read the issues paper, the submissions, and the final proposals. We work with all of the parties that would be effected by them – not just the victims of cyber bullying and harassment.

Bearing all that in mind – I think its a very good set of proposals. It meets, but is not excessively weighted towards the needs of victims of online harassment. The approved agency process provides a good solution for content hosts and people who are complained against – in that issues can be resolved without the use of law enforcement. The threshold for grossly offensive content is set quite high.  I believe that if the proposals were enacted in their entirety, there would be a reduction in harm without any real impact on freedom of expression.

Shockingly – not everybody agrees with me.

In isolation, parts of the proposals can seem quite controversial. If you thought cyber bullying and harassment was not an issue, then you’d find this whole process controversial. If you believe the existing remedies are already effective – you’d not see any reason to develop new ones. If you don’t believe you should have different laws or processes for online offences – you might oppose this.

There are also people that believe they must protect the internet from any form of regulation. I’m not sure exactly why. I don’t think they even know. It seems to be more of a faith than a science.

These are the people that will be most motivated to attend.  People that want to see the proposals reduced, reshaped, or removed. I do get frustrated at the airtime certain speakers get (or grab) that have no real experience dealing with speech harms, so I’m hopeful there will be plenty of attendees that do. I’m also hopeful people that attend will get a chance to read the briefing paper. However, it might be just as useful to read some of the commentary and analyse of the proposals. I produced a simple summary. TechLiberty has articulated some fears. Lawyer Steven Price showed his impartiality with a defence of the proposals, and a critique of them.

NetSafe and the Law Commission are attending the workshops, although I should note that neither is there to promote or defend the proposals. We’re just there to explain what we’re facing (NetSafe) and the process that got us here (Law Commission). The lovely Susan Chalmers of InternetNZ and the loveable (in his own special way) David Farrar of Kiwiblog will moderate discussions on specific areas of the proposals. The workshops have a pretty full agenda, and some knowledgeable contributors – so I’m sure they will be interesting.

If you read this blog, it is likely that you will have : a) an interest in the content of the workshop and b) real experience and knowledge to contribute. If you would like to attend one of the workshops, you need to RSVP by sending an email to RSVP@internetnz.net.nz

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