Govt plans legislation following Christchurch Call
The Government intends to toughen laws to counter the spread of violent extremist content online. Cabinet papers, proactively released, outline proposals which include takedown notices and provisions to implement web-filtering for objectionable content.
The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is currently consulting with stakeholders on the proposed changes to censorship legislation. The policy proposals include the following:
- Knowingly livestreaming objectionable content will become a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison,
- allowing the Chief Censor to make interim classification decisions,
- allowing take-down notices to be issued to require the removal of objectionable online content,
- making online content hosts subject to a civil pecuniary penalty of up to $200,000, if they do not comply with an issued take-down notice,
- ensuring 'safe harbour' provisions in the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 would not apply to objectionable online content, and
- enabling the establishment of regulations that would allow the government to implement web-filtering of objectionable content if required.
The legislative process is expected to start in March, with Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin aiming to have the amendments enacted by August this year.
The proposed changes are a response to the March 15 terrorist attacks in Christchurch last year, where the alleged gunman livestreamed the massacre and posted it online. According to cabinet documents, more than 300,000 copies of the video were uploaded to Facebook, and the social media giant blocked another 1.2 million attempts in the 24 hours following the attacks. Meanwhile ISPs, working with the DIA, attempted to block New Zealanders' access to sites hosting the video.
In May Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron co-chaired a meeting with world leaders and tech companies that resulted in the 'Christchurch Call' - a document committing signatories to combatting the spread of extremist content online. While at home, the DIA began investigating how to strengthen New Zealand laws.
Judging from a recent survey by InternetNZ, the changes are likely to be accepted, even welcomed, by many New Zealanders. The survey notes that "over half of New Zealanders are concerned that the Internet is a forum for extremist material and hate speech, and concerns that information is misleading or wrong have increased significantly since last year."
In addition, "nearly three-quarters of people think that NZ should implement legal consequences for social media companies who expose their users to harm. And nearly two-thirds disagree that social media companies are doing a good job of controlling extremist content," the survey notes.
Only one-fifth of those who were surveyed are aware of the Christchurch Call, but of those, four out of five could accurately articulate an aspect of the content.
The process that has led to proposed legislation has been followed closely by Newsroom journalist Marc Dalder, who's latest article looks at the response from stakeholders. On the one hand ISPs want to see the Government implement a crisis response system as soon as possible, InternetNZ wants more time for consultation. You can read Dalder's article, which links to his previous work on this topic, here.
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