No new criminal laws to combat cyberbullying: Fletcher

No new criminal laws to combat cyberbullying: Fletcher

Summary: The federal government will not push for new criminal offences aimed at punishing cyberbullies, but will rely on existing criminal laws in its bid to stem cyberbullying, according to Liberal MP Paul Fletcher.

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There will be no new federal criminal law provisions introduced to punish cyberbullies as part of the government's plans to combat online bulling with the establishment of the Office of the Children's E-Safety Commissioner, according to Liberal MP Paul Fletcher.

Fletcher, who is the parliamentary secretary to the Communications Minister, spoke at the Queensland Police's Youth, Technology and Virtual Communities Conference on the Gold Coast yesterday.

"We have reached a view based on our consultations that introducing new criminal law provisions into the Commonwealth Criminal Code, specifically to deal with cyberbullying, is not something we intend to proceed with," said Fletcher

"There was strong support for better education and awareness about existing criminal offences covering cyberbullying behaviour."

He added, however, that he intended to recommend to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice that they explore the issue with their state and territory counterparts in a bid to determine whether a "model provision that could be adopted in state and territory law is worth considering".

Fletcher also reiterated the government's decision to exclude provisions for adults in its proposed legislation to combat online bullying, despite public pressure for adults to also be protected by the legislation following the death of TV personality and online bullying target, Charlotte Dawson.

"These measures will apply only to communications directed at children; they have no impact on speech between adults," he said.

The federal government has come under fierce opposition to the establishment of its proposed Children's E-Safety Commissioner from many of the largest social media networks operating in Australia, along with technology and telecommunications companies.

Some of the concerns raised have included issues of restrictions to free speech, the scheme's focus on only the larger social media entities in Australia, and that the scheme would slow down the work of large social media sites.

Fletcher defended the government's decision to go ahead with the establishment of the Children's E-Safety Commissioner and the introduction of new, albeit, watered-down legislation — which was one of the Coalition's core pre-election promises prior to last September's federal election.

"The government wants to ensure that the scheme as introduced does not unnecessarily impose extra cost or process requirements on the large sites," he said. "We recognise that they are global organisations with hundreds of millions of users and billions of items of content being posted every day.

"One point on which there is agreement between the government and the large social media sites is the importance of the Children's E-Safety Commissioner capturing and publishing data about complaints."

However, an alliance of some of the largest social media entities operating in Australia has slammed the federal government for its decision to go ahead with the new anti-bullying legislation.

A statement published yesterday by the Digital Industry Association of Australia's (AIMIA) Digital Policy Group, said the government had dismissed concerns by industry, schools, and other stakeholders, while ignoring the measures already taken by large social network organisations to remove bullying content.

"Industry shares the concerns expressed by school, parent and consumer groups that the Government's proposals will not be effective to address cyberbullying," said AIMIA CEO, David Holmes. "Rather than respond to the concerns raised by industry, by schools, by parents, and by consumer groups during the consultation phase, the government has dismissed them.

"There is still no evidence that the large social media sites, whom the government acknowledges have strong reputational reasons to be highly responsive to bullying complaints, are not already promptly removing bullying content when it is reported to them."

The Digital Policy Group is supported by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, and eBay.

Topics: Government AU, Legal, Security

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Leon covers enterprise technology and start-ups from ZDNet's Sydney newsroom.

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