Communications Tribunal? No thanks!

I’ve been extremely concerned to read about the plans to introduce a communications tribunal in New Zealand, an organization which will have disturbing powers such as being able to determine the criminality of “offensive content” online.

Tech Liberty is doing an excellent job of covering this, read their first article here which details the high level of what the law commission is proposing, as well as their later posting expanding on what powers this tribunal would have.

I don’t have much to add that Tech Liberty hasn’t already covered, just want to state how objectionable I find the consideration of such a legal framework in a democratic country such as New Zealand.

  1. The loss of freedom (ie jail time) is really the greatest punishment we can inflict in our society, this is something that MUST only be within the powers of a court of law to impose after a fair trial, not a tribunal with little recourse and questionable levels of competency.
  2. The idea of imposing criminal charges for posting “offensive content” online is extremely dangerous, after all, what consists of “offensive content”? It’s hard to hold almost *any* opinion without offending someone, religion,policies, text editors, almost anything can be offensive to another party. Something always offends someone somewhere.
  3. I believe the freedom of speech means we need to tolerate the bad as well as the good, people have a right to post bigoted offensive views, just as I have the right to dispute them and call them idiots.
  4. The engagement of NetSafe as a component of the process is concerning, outside organizations shouldn’t be a component of legalization. I also consider NetSafe a very bad organisation to be giving this role too, NetSafe’s background is around student and consumer “cyber-safety”, something which I believe gives them inherent bias to have a very pro-censorship orientation thanks to their safety first angle.

A large number of New Zealanders consider homosexuality to be a disgusting and offensive thing – at the same time a large number consider those against it to be disgusting and offensive people. Does the tribunal get to say one side is right and take down the other? If the tribunal ends up with an imbalance of extreme religious homophobes and pulls a pro-gay rights website, where is the check? Where is society’s definition of offensive?

As much as I hate bigotry, people need to be able to express their views, even if the end result is just telling sane members of society whom they should avoid in the street for being a raving hateful nut.

What about pro-euthanisa websites? There’s no crime in advocating for a change of laws to allow a currently illegal action to become legal, despite what NZ police seem to think and whilst it’s not offensive to me, there are certainly people who find euthanisa a highly offensive suggestion.  It’s part of the core essence that defines democracy – being able to discuss and allowing the general public input into legalization.

We already have libel laws in New Zealand, if you posted “Jethro secretly eats babies”, I already have the legal powers to launch action against you, requiring you to prove your claim or cease publication of it.

Posting an article stating “Jethro is bit of a dick” may be upsetting and offensive to me, but you have right to your opinion, if we started pulling all insulting content I think we might have a bit of a lack of any political commentary for a while…

I will agree that there is an issue with online cyberbullying, but people performing actions such as repeatedly harassing others online should be (is?)  covered under harassment laws and doesn’t need a special tribunal set up for this.

What law makers tend not to think about, is that the internet is a public place and doesn’t need special laws created for it, existing laws should already cover it, if they don’t, we need to fix them. If the process for applying existing laws is too hard, then work on fixing that process, not subvert it with a new organisation or system.

I’d had my fair share of offensive content and internet hate my way in the past (even the honor of a blog post about how I’m a terrible person) and whilst it’s never going to be pleasing or nice to me, I’d rather they have the right to post that, than us living in a censored and non-free society.

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One Response to Communications Tribunal? No thanks!

  1. Jethro Carr says:

    Also note that NetSafe have also responded to Tech Liberty’s argument:
    http://blog.netsafe.org.nz/2012/08/22/the-billboard-is-to-the-internet-as-a-car-is-to-a-helicopter/

    To me they’ve so focused on stopping cyberbullying and protecting people they’re going blindly steamroll over people’s rights – it’s the whole “save children” argument again that’s been used to “justify” internet filtering.

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