Harmful Digital Communications Bill

Black and grey laptop with clear blue screen

Purpose of the Harmful Communications Bill 

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill of New Zealand in 2013 main purpose is to reduce harm from harmful digital communication caused to individuals. The bill aims to provide victims of digital media a means of redress. The Bill reflects the Government’s decision to address digital communication that harms others. The Bill states that the courts must act consistent with the rights and freedoms of New Zealand’s Bill of Rights act and its 10 principles found on their website, which are the following:


  • a digital communication should not disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual (Principle 1);
  • a digital communication should not be threatening, intimidating, or menacing (Principle 2);
  • a digital communication should not be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the complainant’s position (Principle 3);
  • a digital communication should not be indecent or obscene (Principle 4);
  • a digital communication should not be part of a pattern of conduct that constitutes harassment (Principle 5);
  • a digital communication should not make a false allegation (Principle 6);
  • a digital communication should not contain a matter that is published in breach of confidence (Principle 7);
  • a digital communication should not incite or encourage anyone to send a message to a person with the intention of causing harm to that person (Principle 8);
  • digital communication should not incite or encourage another person to commit suicide (Principle 9);
  • digital communication should not denigrate a person by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability (Principle 10) (Part 1, Subpart 1, Clause 6).

Guilty of Disobeying Harmful Communications Bill

Someone commits offense of this Bill if the person posts a digital communication with intent to cause harm to victim, posting the communication would cause harm to an ordinary person in the victims position, posting the communication causes harm to the victim. The courts determine if the post would cause harm by taking in several considerations. These considerations are: the language being used, the age and characteristics of the victim, if the digital communication was anonymous, if the digital communication was repeated, the circulation of the digital communication, if the digital communication is true or false, and the context that the digital communication appeared. The penalty of committing this crime can be up to 3 months in jail or a fine up to $2000.

Problems With Harmful Digital Communications Bill

The problem some people are having with this Bill is that some cases are not as straight forward as teens harassing other teens with negative comments. This subject is discussed by Thomas Beagle in The Harmful Digital Communications Bill and criminalizing free speech. One example he shares of a case where this law doesn’t fit is, if someone took a photo of a corrupt politician taking bribes and posted the picture online they would technically be committing a crime under this law. They person posting the picture is posting with intention to harm the politician, the politician would be harmed by the act, and any reasonable person would be harmed by losing their job due to the picture being posted. However by not allowing the photo to be published the public doesn’t have the knowledge they need to know about their politicians to vote to the best of their ability. Some harmful digital communication is essential to the society and their freedom of speech.

Digital communication is contributing to cyber bullying and abuse that is significantly effecting teens. There is fast growing concern about new communication technologies that are causing harm to people, which need to be addressed. Cyber bullying needs to be controlled and restricted but the law should take in account these outliers that are disobeying the digital communication law but for the good of society.