New Zealand passes bill on cyberbullying and harmful digital communications and faces critics for limiting free speech



On July 2, 2015, the New Zealand Harmful Digital Communications Bill received Royal Assent. The law sets up new offenses for cyber-bulling and a new regime to mitigate the harm produced by digital communications and to police them.

Using deliberately harmful, threatening or offensive language, could be fined or lead to imprisonment. Critics are worried that the Bill will limit free speech (see here and here).

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill has the following key elements:

  • it establishes ten Communication Principles to assess whether a digital communication has caused or is likely to cause harm;
  • it creates a new civil enforcement regime and criminal offenses to deal with the most “seriously harmful digital communications”;
  • it foresees an Approved Agency appointed by the Government to assess complaints, and investigate possible instances of harm. The agency’s primary functions would include education;
  • it includes a safe harbor provision setting out process for online content hosts to follow to limit their liability for content authored by others.

While much of the Harmful Digital Communications Act will come into force within two years from Royal Assent, Section 20 is already in effect. Section 20 is the one that sets up the safe harbor mechanism to limit hosts’ liability for content authored by others.

Information on the legislative path of the bill is available at…

The full text of the Bill is available at…

For more information, Francesca Giannoni-Crystal

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