By Peter Wilson
Cyber bullying and harassment in New Zealand is widespread and damaging, a parliamentary committee has been told.
Telecom, the country's biggest IT provider, strongly supports a bill to curb it by creating new offences and an enforcement regime.
"Yesterday we had 40 calls from customers complaining about harassment - in a year, that adds up to a lot," Telecom representative John Wesley-Smith told the justice select committee on Wednesday.
"We want our customers to feel safe and secure."
The committee is hearing submissions on the Harmful Digital Communications Bill and Mr Wesley-Smith suggested only minor changes to it.
Netsafe's Martin Crocker also backed the bill, saying abuse and harassment wasn't free speech and the two shouldn't be confused.
Young National's representative Nicholas Cross told the committee people found it a lot easier to make threats online than face to face.
"They make serious threats, like rape, which they wouldn't do offline," he said.
"People think they can hide behind anonymity.
Microsoft urges campaign against bullying
Software giant Microsoft says a public awareness campaign about cyber bullying and harassment would be an effective measure to help curb the problem.
Its representative Natasha Crampton told the parliamentary committee the focus should be on behavioural change.
"Microsoft understands its responsibility to contribute to a safer online environment," Ms Crampton said.
"We have made a long-standing commitment in New Zealand and elsewhere to educate users and build safety features into our products."
Ms Crampton said Microsoft considered the enforcement regime proposed in the bill would be slow, costly and complex relative to the outcomes.
"We believe parliament could achieve greater impact if it was to do two things," she told MPs.
"First, invest in a broad public awareness campaign to help shine a spotlight on inappropriate online behaviour and promote existing self help tools.
"Second, nominate an agency to act as a co-ordination point between complainants and service providers that are located both within and outside New Zealand to address cases that require further escalation."
The main purposes of the bill are to:
- create a new civil enforcement regime to deal with harmful digital communications
- create new criminal offences to deal with the most serious harmful communications
- amend existing law so it covers the latest technology.
source: newshub archive